When the schedule came out in the spring, Sunday’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers had all the makings of a potential classic.
Two of the NFL’s best teams.
Two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.
At an iconic venue in December.
So much for that.
The Falcons (4-8) and Packers (4-7-1), who met in the NFC Championship game two years ago, are stumbling into Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field.
The Packers have lost five of their last six games. Because of it, coach Mike McCarthy was fired after his team lost at home to the woeful Cardinals. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who was fired four games into his fourth season as coach of the Dolphins in 2015, will serve as interim coach.
“I told the guys, we’re looking for them to make progress, we’re looking for them to improve,” Philbin said. “We’ve got to clean up some areas and get better. I told them today again, I don’t have the magic pill. I told the defense, we’ve got to get off blocks, we’ve got to cover people, we’ve got to pursue, we’ve got to get guys on the ground and tackle well. I told the offense, we’ve got to block, we’ve got to throw and catch, we’ve got to run hard with the ball. That’s ultimately what wins games. Schemes are important but not as important as playing guys together and playing with great effort and playing fundamentally sound. That’s really the focus.”
The Falcons have lost their last four games. Coach Dan Quinn’s job appears safe after owner Arthur Blank gave him a ringing endorsement.
“Having a boss like him, you really want to get it right for him because of the support that he gives to me,” Quinn said. “I definitely appreciate it. I wasn’t looking for any of those things in that way, but I definitely appreciated it. And I recognised that the questions go with the territory when you fail more tests than you pass. Certainly these two teams who are strong and proud teams have had disappointing seasons up to this point.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2016 MVP, is having an excellent season. He’s completed almost 71 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns vs. five interceptions. But the Falcons have a feeble running game and a propensity to sleep walk through the third quarter. During their four-game losing streak, they’re yet to score 20 points.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the 2011 and 2014 MVP, is 23 passes away from breaking Tom Brady’s NFL-record streak of 358 consecutive passes without an interception. But he’s completed only 61.8 percent of his passes. The Packers have been awful on third down all season, a major reason why they’re only 16th in the league in scoring.
“I think everybody’s kind of realising that we’re all under the microscope even more,” Rodgers said. “Who knows what the changes are going to be after the season? So, there’s the feeling that more eyes are on all of us, whether Mark (Murphy, the team president and CEO) or Brian (Gutekunst, the general manager) or scouts. I feel like the energy was good today. Unfortunately, the urgency that you need early in the season, we kind of had out in practice today.”
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