The Atlanta Falcons laid an egg Saturday night.
A big egg. Huge.
You could take this egg and manufacture six omelets, three pound cakes and a gallon of egg nog.
The Falcons’ 48-21 beat-down at the hands of the Green Bay Packers was complete, thorough, devastating. So much so that by Sunday, “Did you survive the snow storm?” had been surpassed as the area’s most popular greeting query by, “Did you survive the Falcons game?”
In the weeks leading up to the game, the Falcons implored their fans to arrive at the Georgia Dome early and loud. The faithful dutifully complied.
In return, the Falcons sent them home early. In silence.
After watching this team go about its business in workmanlike fashion for the past four months while posting the best record in the entire NFC, this game came as a total deflation. It was as if Christmas morning finally arrived, and Ralphie didn’t get his genuine Red Ryder 200-shot carbine action air rifle.
The Falcons didn’t find sox and underwear under their tree. But they did find Aaron Rodgers, and that was worse. Much worse.
Hard to imagine any quarterback ever having a better playoff game than Rodgers did on Saturday night. After he completed 31-of-36 passes, the mystery was how he missed on the other five. After he deftly avoided Falcon pass rushers all evening, you wondered how he was sacked twice.
Rodgers did benefit from having Christopher Owens pressed into service in the Falcon secondary. Playing nickel back in place of the injured Brian Williams, Owens wasn’t worth a dime.
He almost single-handedly assisted on Green Bay’s second touchdown, missing a key tackle and then deciding to tango with receivers he couldn’t cover. His second penalty, which gave the Packers first-and-goal on the one, caused Falcon coach
Mike Smith to hurl his sheaf of vital game papers onto the turf in utter frustration.
Alas, Owens was but one of myriad culprits on this night. Getting whipped by 27 points in a playoff game at home requires a concerted group effort. As Smith told his players after the game, disappointment reigned supreme.
“I know they’re disappointed,” Smith told the Associated Press. “I’m disappointed. We’re all disappointed. But we’ll learn from it. That’s the important thing. We will learn from what took place this evening.
“I also told ’em, as bad as they feel right now, remember the whole body of work we put out there this year. We can’t forget that, either.”
Give Smith credit for his ability to cut right to the core issue immediately after the game. It’s doubtful that Lee was able to elucidate such a coherent analysis in the immediate aftermath of Gettysburg.
The key issue here is indeed whether this game was so atrocious as to destroy everything that preceded it. Will 48-21 destroy 13 and 3?
The Falcons are left to ponder whether everything this team is built upon is inadequate, or if this game was just an aberration. Are the Falcons that Super Bowl unworthy, or did they run into a red-hot team hitting on all cylinders? Was their performance truly lousy, or did a series of small mistakes snowball into an avalanche?
Consider that things aren’t really going your way when one of your worst plays of the game is a 102-yard kickoff return.
That’s right. Eric Weems’ marvelous return put the Falcons ahead, 14-7, early in the second quarter. But it also put the Packer offense right back on the field. An offense that had just driven 81 yards in 13 plays and eaten up 7:56 of game time.
After Weems’ return, the Packers drove 92 yards in 10 plays, and took another 5:44 off the clock. By the end of this drive, the Green Bay offense was in an unstoppable groove.
Meanwhile, the Falcons' offense hadn’t touched the ball in what seemed like an hour in real time. How much effect did this have on the next two Falcon drives ending in interceptions?
The game ended, for all practical purposes, with Green Bay’s first two drives of the second half, both resulting in touchdowns: 12 plays, 60 yards, 6:32 and 8 plays, 51 yards, 4:48, sandwiched around a Falcon three-and-out.
The team that spent the season priding itself on ball control lost the time of possession battle by an incredible 38:19 to 21:41. The team that didn’t make mistakes coughed up four turnovers and committed seven penalties.
One awful performance? Or one indicating this team can’t play its type of game under pressure?
If, as Smith says, everything is part of the learning process, perhaps tough lessons were learned on Saturday night.
But this is one devastating setback from which to recover.