ATLANTA – They don't get much tougher than this.
The circumstances and the result weren't easy for the Packers to deal with on Sunday. Playing through still more adversity in the injury department, the Packers came out on the short end of a back-and-forth offensive show at the Georgia Dome.
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan's touchdown pass with 31 seconds left handed the Packers a gut-punch defeat, 33-32.
"Difficult loss for us," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said a few minutes after the heartbreaker dropped the Packers to 4-3 on the season. "We're disappointed we did not win the game. We put ourselves in position to win."
The Falcons snatched it away, though, driving 75 yards in 11 plays for the winning score after the Packers had taken a 32-26 lead on Aaron Rodgers' fourth TD pass of the game with 3:58 left.
A QB shootout between Rodgers and Ryan saw both passers put up impressive numbers, with 28 completions apiece and a total of seven TD tosses. Ryan's passer rating of 129.5 was four points higher than Rodgers' 125.5, and Ryan's 288 yards were just 42 more than Rodgers' 246.
While Green Bay's defense played without Clay Matthews and did a good job containing all-world receiver Julio Jones (three catches, 29 yards), it was the Falcons' No. 2, Mohamed Sanu, who was Ryan's main man down the stretch.
Sanu caught five passes for 51 yards on the Falcons' final drive, including an 11-yard TD pass over the middle just in front of the goal post.
McCarthy said he wasn't sure exactly what happened on the play, suggesting perhaps a safety had moved out of the middle of the field to double-cover Jones, leaving a gap behind linebacker Jake Ryan. Sanu and Ryan found it, with Sanu finishing with nine grabs for 84 yards.
"This is an excellent illustration like I just told the team, of what these tough games come down to," McCarthy said. "You have to make key plays at key times, and we didn't make enough plays to win."
Green Bay had one final chance with 31 seconds to go. The Packers had driven for a field goal to end the first half in just 27 seconds, taking a 24-19 lead at the time.
They couldn't repeat the effort, though. Two downfield throws to Jordy Nelson (four catches, 94 yards) and Davante Adams (12-74) both didn't connect. Nelson tried to reach up to haul one in across midfield, but couldn't get it. Rodgers said he and Adams were "on different pages" when Rodgers scrambled to his right on fourth down and fired to the sideline incomplete.
"I just missed him," Rodgers said of the throw to Nelson. "It's frustrating. I would have liked to hit the one to Jordy there and that (last) one as well."
Playing without Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb on offense, the Packers looked no worse for wear early on, driving for three touchdowns in the first half before the late field goal.
Rookie receivers Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison both caught their first career TD passes. Jeff Janis added his first regular-season score in the second half as the Packers were trying whatever it took to keep up with the Falcons, who came in ranked No. 1 in the league in yards and points.
"It's different each week," McCarthy said of the offensive plan that evolves due to the team's injuries. "We went to more of a spread game and got production. I thought Aaron was outstanding.
"We've played like this before. We're taking advantage of the people we have. It's the NFL. You have to run through your menu of offense. We're playing as many people as possible and you can see why."
Rodgers lamented the offense's scoreless third quarter, Two fruitless possessions that reached near or across midfield ended in third-down sacks by Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
The Packers couldn't build on their halftime lead and instead entered the fourth quarter down, 26-24, after the Falcons drove 80 yards in 14 plays in between Green Bay's two possessions.
"We needed a little bit more that third quarter, to put our defense in better position," Rodgers said.
Nearing the halfway point of the season, the team's position remains second place in the NFC North behind Minnesota (5-1). Whether the Packers will reside one or two games back depends on the Vikings' Monday night game in Chicago.
"It's important for us to stick together," Rodgers said, "and figure out what we have to do to go on a run."
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