Posted: Sunday January 16, 2011 12:15AM ; Updated: Sunday January 16, 2011 2:52AM
John P. Lopez
John P. Lopez>INSIDE THE NFL

NFC: Packers-Falcons report card

Story Highlights

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was clearly in his element, while Matt Ryan was not

Dom Capers had a brilliant game plan to confuse young Matt Ryan and the Falcons

Tramon Williams made the two biggest plays, including an interception return

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B.J. Raji and the Packer defense made life difficult for Matt Ryan.
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Grading out the performances from the Packers' 48-21 victory over the Falcons in the NFC Divisional Playoffs ...

Atlanta Falcons

Quarterback: Matt Ryan got off to exactly the kind of start the Falcons had hoped he would, converting key third-down conversions and moving his team methodically down the field for a quick lead. But that was it. Ryan never could get into a rhythm, was kept off the field by Green Bay's ball control and never got the complementary running game that has been so crucial all season. Ryan didn't complete his 10th pass until barely two minutes were left in the third quarter. His late first-half interception that Tramon Williams returned for a touchdown was a horrible decision. Grade: D

Running Backs: Michael Turner's big, spinning 12-yard touchdown run behind Ryan Clabo and Harvey Dahl to open the game seemed like a harbinger of good things to come. But Turner was completely shut down after the first quarter, collecting just 26 more yards and finishing with 39. Even after the Packers took a 28-14 lead, the Falcons tried to re-establish Turner and the ground game, but couldn't. Grade: D

Receivers: The biggest X-factor coming in had to be tight end Tony Gonzalez, who had six catches in the first meeting between these teams. Gonzalez proved to be a nowhere man, finishing with just one catch. Elsewhere, Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran and Roddy White could not make the plays to stem the tide. And when they did make plays, two were overturned -- one by replay review and the other by penalty. White didn't attack the ball on the biggest play of the game, when Tramon Williams picked Ryan late in the first half and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown. Grade: C-

Offensive Line: They couldn't get Turner going. They couldn't protect Ryan. They couldn't match the big plays they had made en route to a 13-3 regular season. Harvey Dahl committed a big procedure call late in the second quarter when the Falcons were driving for what could have been the tying touchdown. Right tackle Tyson Clabo had a horrendous night, committing penalties, giving up two sacks and repeatedly breaking down on Ryan's blind side. Grade: D

Defensive Line: The Falcons front four had to be effective to help the vulnerable secondary. They never were a factor. They couldn't get consistent pressure on Rodgers and when they did, Rodgers eluded their grasp. When the Packers turned to running back James Starks in the second half, the front four missed too many tackles to get off the field. The Packers' third-down conversions alone (8-of-12) tell the story of how the defensive line was pushed around. Grade: C

Linebackers: Stephen Nicholas punched the ball out of Greg Jennings' hands in the first quarter to get the Falcons going and get the crowd rolling. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton had to come up huge for Atlanta to have a chance and he did virtually nothing. Missed tackles will haunt this team the entire offseason. Grade: C

Defensive Backs: A hidden vulnerability all year for this Falcons defense was an underachieving secondary. It was exposed, badly, all night long. Dunta Robinson was consistently beat, including on a touchdown. Corners gave big cushions and Chris Owens was abused by Donald Driver all night long. Brent Grimes was exploited as well, often by James Jones. Grade: F

Special Teams: When Eric Weems, a Pro Bowl returner, took a kickoff back 102 yards for a second-quarter touchdown and a 14-7 lead, it seemed the host Falcons would not be denied. That proved to be the last highlight of the night, however. Mike Koenen had a horrible punt to set up the Packers at midfield, which led to a big third-quarter score. And a last-gasp onside-kick attempt just missed when Brian Finneran caught the ball too soon. Grade: B-minus

Coaching: Neither offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey nor defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder could dial up a semblance of the right plan. Still, as much as it was the coordinators who were overwhelmed, the biggest blunder of the night belonged to head coach Mike Smith. With 10 seconds left at the end of the first half and the Falcons already in field-goal range, Smith decided to try to get a little more yardage. Running to his left, Ryan threw against his body. The pass was picked by Tramon Williams and returned 70 yards for a back-breaking touchdown . Grade: D

Green Bay Packers

Quarterback: Rodgers was brilliant, start-to-finish. The word epic is thrown around far too often, but this truly was an epic playoff performance. He was cool under pressure, never wavered even after the Falcons got off to a fast start, and he made every throw, completing 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns. His elusiveness extended play after play and led to the highest-scoring playoff game in Packers history. Put it this way: If Tom Brady was watching, he had to be impressed. Oh, yeah: Rodgers ran for a touchdown, too. Grade: A+

Running Backs: This wasn't the James Starks who ran for 123 yards at Philadelphia, but it was more than enough. John Kuhn ran for a touchdown and had big conversions out of the backfield. Even defensive tackle B.J. Raji got into the act, lead-blocking on Kuhn's touchdown run. Grade: C

Receivers: Rodgers used every weapon available and they all came through, save for Greg Jennings' early fumble, which set up early momentum for the Falcons. But, after that, every Packers receiver got into the act -- none more impressively than Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Nelson and Jones made clutch catch after clutch catch, including Jones' big 34-yard completion on third-down and ensuing TD grab to give the Pack the lead again after Eric Weems' kickoff return. Grade: A

Offensive Line: When the Packers needed to run, they leaned heavily on Chad Clifton and Daryn Colledge on the left side, with decent success. More significantly, the entire offensive line protected Rodgers (sacked only once) and stayed penalty-free in an extremely hostile environment. Grade: B

Defensive Line: Between holding Michael Turner to virtually nothing on the ground, sacking Matt Ryan five times and freeing the secondary to make plays, the Packers' front three (and occasionally four) dominated. Grade: A

Linebackers: A.J. Hawk was solid throughout and a sure tackler. Clay Matthews turned in several big plays. After missed tackles on Atlanta's first scoring drive, the linebackers turned up the heat. The blitz packages all night seemed to have the Falcons on roller skates. Grade: B

Defensive Backs: Tramon Williams made the two biggest plays of the night, intercepting Matt Ryan in the end zone in the first quarter, then returning another interception 70 yards for the play of the game and a 28-14 halftime lead. Charles Woodson was no slouch. All night, the secondary kept Falcons receivers in front of them and made sure tackles. Grade: A+

Special Teams: After the Packers tied the game 7-7, horrible angles in kickoff coverage nearly derailed the great Green Bay effort before it really got going. Eric Weems' 102-yard kickoff return got the crowd back into it and could have been a back breaker. Mason Crosby hit the upright from 50 yards and Starks allowed a Falcons kickoff to go out of bounds on the 8-yard line. Grade: C-

Coaching: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers had a tremendous plan all night. Mike McCarthy won a big challenge early in the third quarter. The blitz and coverage packages confused Ryan and the Falcons all night. And, all in all, the Packers could not have been more prepared or focused. Grade: A

 
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