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Rodgers tough but Ryan shines as Falcons beat Pack

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Associated Press
October 5, 2008
— With every rock-solid read and on-target spiral, Matt Ryan takes another step toward making everybody forget Michael Vick, Bobby Petrino and everything else in the Atlanta Falcons' ugly recent past.

The rookie quarterback turned in another sharp performance as the Falcons beat the Green Bay Packers 27-14 at Lambeau Field on Sunday, upstaging a gritty showing by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.


It was the first road win of the season for the new and improved Falcons (3-2), putting a team that is supposed to be rebuilding over the .500 mark. Falcons coach Mike Smith had a feeling during pregame warmups that his young quarterback wasn't going to get rattled on the road this time around.


"He said, 'Hey, this is pretty cool,'" Smith said. "Just nice, calm, cool and collected."


And efficient.


Ryan completed 16 of 26 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Falcons wide receiver Roddy White caught eight passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, while Michael Turner ran for 121 yards and a touchdown.


Ryan stole the stage from Rodgers, who played hurt and played hard but not quite well enough to avoid the Packers' third straight loss.


Rodgers started for the Packers despite a sprained shoulder that kept him out of practice for most of the week. He got better as the game went on, even as the signs that his shoulder was bothering him became more obvious.


Rodgers hurt his shoulder at Tampa Bay last Sunday, and insisted during the week that the quarterback-record consecutive starts streak held by his predecessor, Brett Favre, didn't place any additional pressure on him to play.


While Rodgers said his shoulder was "definitely painful" on Sunday, it didn't stop him from pleading with coach Mike McCarthy to let him play.


"I think Mike wanted to look into my eyes and see if I wanted to play, and I told him 'I want the ball. I want to be out there,'" Rodgers said. "Then I just knew I was going to have to deal with the pain."


Rodgers was 25-for-37 for 313 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, and nearly led the Packers to a late comeback.


With Green Bay trailing 17-7 late in the third quarter, Rodgers drove the Packers for a 50-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. Rodgers winced and held his arm after several throws.


Then Ryan looked like a rookie for the first time all afternoon.


After driving the Falcons to the Packers 12, Ryan had tight end Ben Hartsock wide open in the end zone. But he threw a lollipop that was intercepted by Tramon Williams.


"I guess that's part of the learning curve, too," Ryan said. "You've got to get that ball out faster and make a better throw in those types of situations, because it's not often that you get a guy running like that, that open."


Rodgers then threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings to tie the game at 17.


But the Falcons answered with a 54-yard kickoff return by Jerious Norwood, leading to a 41-yard field goal by Jason Elam for a 20-17 lead.


The Packers tried to answer but were undone by mistakes, including an intentional grounding call on Rodgers under heavy pressure from defensive end John Abraham.


Rodgers then threw an interception to linebacker Michael Boley, who returned the ball to the Packers 19. Turner then scored on a 2-yard touchdown run.


"I was trying to make a play in a situation where I probably should have checked it off to the back," Rodgers said. "Boley made a nice play."


Still, Rodgers recovered to drive the Packers to Atlanta's 4, then tossed an underhand pass to Donald Lee to cut the Falcons' lead to 27-24 with 1:56 left. But Atlanta recovered an onside kick.


The Packers played shorthanded on defense and it showed.


Lineman Cullen Jenkins is out for the season and cornerback Al Harris is out indefinitely with a spleen injury. Strong safety Atari Bigby was inactive because of a hamstring injury, and cornerback Charles Woodson continues to play with a broken toe.


"We're going through a phase that every team goes through," McCarthy said. "That's what we're in right now and it's important for people to step up."


The Packers have shown signs of being a good team in their first five games, but McCarthy has yet to see enough consistency.


"We're making common mistakes, things we're stressing in practice, and we need to clean them up," McCarthy said. "Our house is messy right now. Nobody's happy about it and we'll continue to work. But we're 2-3 and we"ll get it cleaned up tomorrow as we head into Seattle."


Notes: Packers left tackle Chad Clifton left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. His status is unclear. ... It is the Packers' first three-game losing streak since 2006. ... Williams, who is filling in for Harris, had an interception for the second straight game.



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