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Bad break for Packers: Falcons to visit Lambeau Field before grass turns to tundra


Ryan Wood   | Packers News
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Fourth in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers are scheduled to face during the 2020 regular season.

GREEN BAY - If you look close enough, you can still see the same Atlanta Falcons who dismantled the Green Bay Packers in the 2016 NFC Championship game.

The Falcons have the same quarterback. The same head coach. The same all-world receiver. Their defense lost pass rusher Vic Beasley and cornerback Desmond Trufant this spring, but remains dotted with playmakers, including interior rusher Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones.

This is a team that poses plenty of threat.

It just hasn’t in recent seasons.

Maybe it’s a hangover from that historic collapse against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI, but the Falcons haven’t been the same since their run through the NFC playoffs in 2016. Although they went to the playoffs in 2017, they won one fewer game in the regular season and bowed out in the divisional round. A pair of 7-9 seasons followed.

The Falcons opened last season with a stunning 1-7 record, including a six-game losing streak into their midseason bye, before turning their season around. It was too little, too late, but perhaps their 6-2 record in the back half – including a four-game winning streak to close the season – will be a harbinger of things to come.

A tale of two seasons

Whatever Falcons coach Dan Quinn did during his team’s Week 9 bye last season, it worked. The results coming out of that bye couldn’t be more stark. The Falcons averaged 20.62 points per game in the first eight, and a full touchdown more (27) in the final eight. They improved even more on defense, from allowing 31.25 points per game in the first eight to 18.62 in the final eight. There were some shocking victories in the season’s second half as well: 26-9 at the New Orleans Saints in Week 10, 29-22 at the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15.

Julio at 30

When the Falcons traded up from their original slot at No. 27 in the 2011 draft to select Julio Jones sixth overall, a move that required a pair of first-, second- and fourth-round picks, they clearly were expecting big things. Yet even they might not have anticipated how great Jones would become. Jones turned 30 years old before last season and celebrated by catching 99 passes for 1,394 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games, earning his sixth straight Pro Bowl. Jones was also selected second-team All-Pro for the third straight year, which followed his first-team nods in 2015 and 2016. Father Time is undefeated, yes, but at an age when even top receivers can start their decline, Jones showed he’s still in the prime of a future Hall of Fame career.

Home field

Location is important in football. It’s why teams strive for home-field advantage. In this series, location has been especially important. The home team has won each of the past six games between the Packers and Falcons dating to the 2013 season, including the 2016 NFC championship game in Atlanta. The Falcons have won at Lambeau Field just once with Matt Ryan at quarterback – in his rookie season of 2008. The home-field advantage might not be as pronounced this fall, with an early-season game scheduled before the grass turns to tundra. Each of the three games at Lambeau Field since Ryan’s rookie year have been in December. Still, the difference between playing the Falcons' offense on their fast track inside a dome is vast. The Packers will surely take this game on their home field.

Packers schedule glimpse

Oct. 5 vs. Falcons, 7:15 p.m., ESPN

Week before: at New Orleans, Sept. 27.

Week after: Bye.

On the horizon: at Tampa Bay, Oct. 18.

Atlanta Falcons

Coach: Dan Quinn (sixth season, 43-37).

2019 record: 7-9, second in NFC South.

Scoring offense: 23.8 points per game (13th in NFL).

Total offense: 379.7 yards per game (5th).

Scoring defense: 24.9 points per game (23rd).

Total defense: 355.8 yards per game (20th).

Series: Packers lead 16-14 (2-2 playoffs).

Last meeting: In the first game of the post-Mike McCarthy era, the Packers trounced the Falcons 34-20 at Lambeau Field on Dec. 9, 2018. The Packers jumped out to a 34-7 lead after three quarters, with Aaron Rodgers completing 21 of 32 passes for 196 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 103.1 rating. Of note: Randall Cobb scored his last touchdown with the Packers in this game.

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