Steven Jackson set the tone early, and the Atlanta Falcons mounted a furious rally late at a snowy Lambeau Field.
But despite 50 yards and a touchdown from SJ39, and a furious rally that saw the offense compile 30 second-half points, Atlanta's Monday Night Football upset bid was ultimately denied by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
"I thought that everybody battled," said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. "We were playing against a really good football team in Green Bay, up here where they play extremely well. We had no quit, but we put ourselves too far behind early on. When you make mistakes going against a team like that it is tough to overcome. Unfortunately, we just weren't able to make enough plays to overcome what we did in the first half."
Ryan finished 24-of-39 for 375 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the 43-37 defeat—including 11 completions to star wideout Julio Jones for 259 yards and a score—exactly the type of game he knew he'd have to have to outduel the MVP favorite in Rodgers.
The Packers, the No. 2 scoring offense in the NFL, were prolific from the start, scoring right out of the gate to make it 7-0. However, S-Jax and the Falcons came with a counterpunch.
On Atlanta's first offensive play, No. 39 took the handoff and immediately moved the chains with a 10-yard rush. He tallied six more yards on the ground before Ryan took the reins and connected with Jones three times to put the Falcons at 1st-and-goal at the four.
On first down, the Falcons turned to their bruiser in the backfield: SJ39. Steven took a handoff from Ryan up the middle and burst through the Green Bay front line, carrying defenders across the goal line to tie the game at seven.
[Watch SJ39's first-quarter touchdown run.]
— Atlanta_Falcons (@Atlanta_Falcons) December 9, 2014
That's 6 straight #MNF games with a rushing touchdown for @sj39. #RiseUp
— Atlanta_Falcons (@Atlanta_Falcons) December 9, 2014
What an answer by @sj39 and the @Atlanta_Falcons! We're tied at Lambeau. pic.twitter.com/CAwwaMMTcg
— ESPN Monday Night (@ESPNMondayNight) December 9, 2014
Steven Jackson bulls it in for a touchdown! Pending the Matt Bryant extra point, we're all knotted up!
— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) December 9, 2014
While Steven had his squad right in it through the first quarter, the second frame didn't go as well. The Packers scored 24 unanswered points, and it looked like the rout was on, with the Falcons down 31-7, at the half.
But despite the score, Atlanta kept battling.
"I thought it was two halves of a football game. The first half, we didn't play nearly as consistently as we needed to," said head coach Mike Smith. "I thought we did a good job in the second half of the ball game to come back from the deficit that we had."
The passing game set the tone from the start in the third quarter when Ryan hit Jones on a 79-yard completion on the first play frame, setting the stage for the comeback. The Falcons tallied back-to-back touchdowns before Green Bay added another field goal.
S-Jax notched a short run to move the chains on the final play of the quarter, and that led to another Ryan-Jones connection, this time for a touchdown to make it just a 10-point game, 34-24, early in the fourth.
Rodgers responded by finding his top receiver, Jordy Nelson, on a 60-yard scoring play to extend the Packers lead, but Atlanta came right back. SJ39 ran for 10 yards, as the Falcons put together another strong drive.
Steven nearly had another touchdown, as he fought his way to the one on another 1st-and-goal rush. But after he was stopped just short, Ryan found Roddy White in the end zone for six, making it a 10-point game once again.
"We were fighting, we were scrapping our way back—just about got there," said fullback Patrick DiMarco. "The Packers played a really good game, and we fought hard."
Green Bay came back with a field goal to make it a 13-point contest, and yet again, Atlanta boarded its comeback train. SJ39 helped to conduct the next drive when he hauled in a short pass over the middle and took it 17 yards to move his team into the red zone.
Later in the drive, SJ tacked on a five-yard rush to set up the Falcons' next scoring play, a two-yard touchdown strike from Ryan to Harry Douglas, putting Atlanta just a touchdown and an extra point away from the upset.
However, the Packers recovered a Falcons onside kick attempt and successfully salted away the final 2:11 to squeeze out the 43-37 victory.
Though they came up just short of the comeback, the strong showing in the second half instilled confidence in the Falcons as they enter the home stretch of the season.
"We know what we've got to do. We know how to execute, we just didn't do it consistently in that first half," said offensive tackle Jake Matthews. "So we're going to keep doing the same things, because we know it can work if we execute."
Despite the loss, the Falcons still remain at the top of the NFC South, tied in record with the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta still owns the tiebreaker with a 4-0 divisional record.
The Falcons (5-8) have three games remaining, including one each against the Saints and the Carolina Panthers, either of which could serve as a de-facto divisional championship game.
But first, they will return to the Georgia Dome for a tough out of conference test against the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) next Sunday.
The Steelers are locked in a wide-open divisional battle of their own in the AFC North, and they are coming off a vital 42-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The week prior, they fell 35-32 to the Saints.
SJ39 is yet to face the Steelers while in an Atlanta uniform, but averaged 94 yards in two contests against them while with the St. Louis Rams.
Pittsburgh and Atlanta are set for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff on Sunday and the game will be broadcast on CBS.
- Postgame press pass: Confidence abounds (Atlanta Falcons, Dec. 8, 2014)
- What they said: Falcons at Packers (Atlanta Falcons, Dec. 9, 2014)
- Game notebook: Falcons at Packers (Atlanta Falcons, Dec. 9, 2014)
- Transcripts: Smith, Ryan Press Conferences (Atlanta Falcons, Dec. 8, 2014)
- Atlanta loses to Green Bay despite second-half surge (The Falcoholic, Dec. 9, 2014)