GREEN BAY – Za'Darius Smith has had no problem picking up where he left off a year ago.
The Packers' Pro Bowl linebacker continued to be a wrecking ball on the defensive front in Monday night's 30-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons, leading the defense with eight tackles (four for loss), five quarterback hits and three sacks.
It wasn't until the dust had settled, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur awarded Smith a game ball, that the sixth-year pass rusher realized how impactful he'd been against Atlanta.
"(LaFleur) called the stats – I forgot the stats but it was something crazy. I'm talking about on a video game," said Smith, whose five sacks are tied for the most in the NFL through the first four weeks.
"I didn't even know I had done that much but, you know, it's big, man, to be able to get this because he challenged me earlier this week to bring my all in this game."
All three of Smith's sacks Monday stymied the Falcons, beginning with him dropping Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for an 8-yard loss at the end of the first half. Atlanta cut its losses after the play, opting to go into halftime down 20-3.
Looking to shut the door on the Falcons in the fourth quarter, Smith dropped Ryan again for a 4-yard loss on third-and-6 and then recorded another sack for a loss of 13 yards on first down during what turned out to be Atlanta's final series of the game.
While Green Bay's defense didn't force any turnovers, it had arguably its best showing to date in holding the Falcons to only 78 rushing yards (3.1 yards per attempt) on 25 carries. Safety Adrian Amos also broke up a would-be touchdown to Calvin Ridley late to help seal the win.
"The guys on the back end, it's hand in hand," Smith said. "We're trying to get after the quarterback, it comes with coverage. When we're rattling the quarterback, it comes with picks. We all play as one, man, to try to be dominant in the pass game."
If the game ball wasn't enough, Smith said he also received a phone call after the game from rapper (and Packers fan) Lil Wayne, who asked him to relay a message to Aaron Rodgers following his own four-touchdown day against the Falcons.
"He said, 'Man, whatever Aaron Rodgers is doing, tell him to keep doing it because that man is on fire!'" Smith said.
What resulted was tight end Robert Tonyan catching three touchdown passes and fourth-year running back Jamaal Williams finishing with a career-high 95 receiving yards on eight catches.
The Packers used numerous packages with two running backs Monday night, including some featuring both Williams and Aaron Jones (who had 111 total yards and a touchdown on 20 touches).
Meanwhile, Williams' 77 receiving yards in the first half alone were the most by a Packers running back since Eddie Lacy had 85 against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 26, 2014.
"I think anytime you're faced with some of the challenges that we were at the wide receiver position, our goal is to get our best players on the field at all times," LaFleur said. "Those other two backs are pretty versatile and I think you saw that tonight."
Summers, who had seven tackles, finished the game as the three-down linebacker after Barnes exited with a shoulder injury and didn't return.
"When one guy goes down, we've got to depend on the next guy to come in and set the tone for us in the middle," Smith said. "Because he's the one with the mic and he's the one that's making the call."
Lambeau Field hosted Monday Night Football between the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 5, 2020.
The sixth man: With blocking tight end Marcedes Lewis out with a knee injury, the Packers used swing tackle Rick Wagner as a sixth offensive lineman in a few run-centric packages.
Green Bay enjoyed success in that formation, as well, with Wagner getting to the second level and sealing a lane for Jones' 11-yard carry to kick off a 10-play series in the fourth quarter.
"It was nice," Tonyan said. "Marcedes has a big presence, and it's nice to still have that big presence with Rick out there playing that position a little bit. It's a good changeup for defenses too, because you don't know what's going to happen."
Erring on the side of caution: In consulting with their doctors and trainers, the Packers made a team decision to sit both Adams and defensive tackle Kenny Clark (groin) against the Falcons, and give the two Pro Bowlers an extra week to come back from their respective injuries following the bye.
Clark has now missed the past three games, while Adams sat out last week against New Orleans.
"It's never one person's decision," LaFleur said. "I think it's all of us together and certainly I'm not a doctor, and we're always going to refer to our doctors and make the decisions that are in the best interest of this football team."