On their heels and down two scores, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers regrouped for 25 straight points to decisively top Atlanta. Are they unbeatable?

By Jeff Labrecque
October 10, 2011 at 07:14 AM EDT
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After the Green Bay Packers ended the Atlanta Falcons’ last serious scoring opportunity with a fourth-quarter interception, the question of whether the defending Super Bowl champions could go this entire season undefeated suddenly became a topic worth discussing. That the Packers struggled offensively at the outset and fell behind, 14-0, before rallying for 25 straight points only reinforced the notion that this team, which has now won 11 games in a row dating back to last season, is as complete and resilient as they are explosive.

The Packers’ impressive performance on Sunday Night Football stands in stark contrast to some of the Week 5 showings by other preseason favorites, notably the now 1-4 Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Vick was harassed into throwing four interceptions by the Buffalo Bills’ pass rush and the surprising Bills upset the Eagles, 31-24. In a clip from the post-game press conference that aired on Football Night in America, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid shouldered the blame, and a misbehaving mic made it sound like he had an irregular heartbeat that was about to burst right through his chest. The heavyset coach might now be on the hot seat, if not in the emergency room.

In New York, the Giants were undone by Seattle’s gruesome-twosome of Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst — two quarterbacks with less public support than those Prime Suspect commercials that feature fans’ tweets — allowing 20 fourth-quarter points to lose, 36-25. And in Houston, the frustrating Texans gifted a game to the Oakland Raiders – and their late owner Al Davis – with another shoddy performance that must have their fans apoplectic. FNA’s Dan Patrick and the show’s pregame crawl tried to give Davis, who died Saturday at age 82, more than his fair share of the credit, reminding viewers that several of the game’s surprising stars had been drafted by Davis. Couldn’t the same be said about every other owner and his respective players on Sunday afternoon? Many current Raiders, both good and bad, were drafted by Davis, including infamous multimillion-dollar busts no longer in the sport, like JaMarcus Russell. At one point in the pregame show, Peter King revealed that Davis had tried to recruit ousted Lions exec — and former Raider — Matt Millen to run his team a few years ago. “But imagine what would’ve happened if this would’ve been Matt Millen’s team moving forward,” said King. Viewers were left to make their own conclusions as to whether this was supposed to be evidence of Davis’ brilliance. Or his incompetence. As it is, this year’s Raiders are now 3-2.

It wouldn’t be until halftime before we heard an honest assessment of Davis’ legacy, a pioneer who in later years began to resemble Ed Grimley‘s crazy uncle. The architect of some truly great Raiders teams in the 1970s and 80s could also be petty and vindictive. Before kickoff, Packers star Charles Woodson, a former Raider, told NBC that Davis always had his back when he played for him. But kudos to Bob Costas for reminding viewers in his halftime spot that Davis could also be a “general pain in the assets,” who once undermined his best player, Marcus Allen, as well as his young coach, Mike Shanahan. Like the recent passing of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Davis’ positive contributions to the game, his championship rings, and his “Just win, baby,” ethos are only half of his polarizing legacy in the sport.

NEXT: The Falcons seemed to have the Packers solved….

If any team currently exemplifies the Raiders’ old Commitment to Excellence, it’s the Packers. B.J. Novak doppleganger Aaron Rodgers has been the league’s best player this season, and his top-2 receiving targets told Costas in the pre-game that their current QB was potentially better than the great Brett Favre. (Smart answer, since Favre isn’t throwing them the ball anymore.) The first quarter, though, proved a struggle for the Packers. The Falcons had a gameplan to keep Rodgers and his fast-break offense off the field, and it seemed to be working. Atlanta scored on its first possession, a 13-play, nearly seven-minute drive that pounded away on the ground. After the Packers fumbled the ball, the Falcons marched down the field a second time, with quarterback Matt Ryan expertly changing plays at the line, and Michael Turner punched it in from a yard out. 14-0, Atlanta.

The Falcons seemed to have the Packers solved. You could practically hear all the rival coaches around the league watching the Falcons master the Packers D and saying, “Aha! This is how you do it!” Making matters worse, Rodgers’ left tackle, Chad Clifton, left the game with a serious injury, throwing their already undermanned offensive line into disarray. The Falcons defense, which hadn’t recorded a quarterback sack since week 1, downed Rodgers twice in a row and forced Green Bay to settle for a field goal, 14-3. Cris Collinsworth commented that Rodgers and his offense seemed confused.

But a few plays before the sacks, Rodgers gave a hint why his team remained dangerous. Dropping back to pass on a third-and-8, he rolled out of the pocket and found an open man downfield. While most quarterbacks’ tosses on the run have a nice gentle arc to them, Rodgers 39-yard strike was a rocket that hit Greg Jennings in stride. No one else alive can make that throw the way he did. Though the Falcons D then stiffened, and they still led by a comfortable margin, the play had to send doubts through the Atlanta sideline.

From there, it was just a matter of time. Though the Falcons seemed in control, the Packers’ quick-strike ability finally broke through. Trailing 14-9 in the third quarter, Rodgers connected with James Jones for a 70-yard score. Just like before, the throw was a dart, leaving the defender grasping for air. Even though there was plenty of time remaining, you could feel the air come out of the Georgia Dome. The Packers were suddenly up, 15-14, and the Falcons’ strategy of ball-control and containment suddenly seemed insufficient. Rodgers threw another quick touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and though we wouldn’t know it until later, the game was over.

And this is when we realized it wasn’t ridiculous to discuss the possibility of the soon-to-be 5-0 Packers going undefeated. Al Michaels posed the question, and he and Collinsworth then looked ahead at the Packers schedule to see which teams might present the greatest challenge. What was most impressive about the Packers’ 25-14 victory was the way they responded to things that didn’t go their way: the injuries, the early fumble, the relentless pass rush. They took the Falcons best shots, regrouped, and responded. They didn’t make it look easy, per se, but they made the win look inevitable.

Do you think Green Bay has a realistic chance to go 16-0? If not the Pack, which team was the most impressive this week? Tom Brady and the Patriots? Does the Eagles’ fourth loss put their season in jeopardy?

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