The Green Bay Packers’ chances of spoiling the Falcons’ first game in their gaudy new butthole stadium crumbled to dust on two plays on either side of halftime.
Down by 10 with under a minute left in the first half, the Packers desperately needed some modicum of momentum, since the Falcons had thoroughly stymied them for the bulk of two quarters. Green Bay was going to get the ball back after the break, and if they could make it a one-score game before then, things would have felt a lot closer. They were on their way after Aaron Rodgers hit Randall Cobb to move the ball to midfield with plenty of time.
Unfortunately, the play was called back due to an offensive pass interference call on Martellus Bennett. The mystifying penalty turned what was a promising drive into a backbreaking turnover, as just two plays later, Rodgers threw a pick and Atlanta promptly stuffed it into the end zone. Bennett, at the bottom of the screen in this gif, hardly touched Brian Poole.
The Packers were not happy about the call and several took specific issue with it after the game. Michele Tafoya said head coach Mike McCarthy told her before halftime that “it wasn’t a pick play,” and Rodgers said officials must have been seeing “ghosts.”
“The one on Marty, unfortunately it was a terrible time for that,” Rodgers said. “If we score on that drive, we get the ball on the first possession of the second half, it’s a different game.”
“I don’t know how you call pass interference on that when Marty is running a drag route, Cobb runs a shake route, and Marty is looking back at me and gets run into,” Rodgers said.
“There are pick routes in the game, but that definitely wasn’t one. It’s an area of emphasis but you can’t see ghosts out there. It probably should have been a no-call.”
McCarthy picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after flipping out when the Falcons scored their touchdown, a play which took advantage of what appeared to be a legitimate pick:
“I was looking for clarification on the penalty that was called on Marty Bennett and didn’t get any clarification, and the penalty resulted from that situation,” McCarthy said.
Bennett said he was just running his drag route:
“I didn’t see the guy, I was running my route,” Bennett said. “He ran into me. It was incidental contact. I didn’t see him. I was looking back for the ball. I was running a flat route, so I don’t know. I’m not a referee.”
Fair call or not, the Packers were broken for good just two plays into the second half when Rodgers got crushed and his errant fling wound up going backward, to be easily scooped up by Desmond Trufant.
If the first pivotal play was unfair to the Packers, the second was indicative of how dominant Atlanta’s defense was all night. Green Bay was without both of their starting offensive tackles, and Atlanta consistently brought pressure from the edge. Rodgers was sacked thrice, hit seven times, and he only flopped the crucial fumble toss out to Trufant (who was great all night) because he was getting crushed by Vic Beasley Jr. and Dontari Poe.
Poe and a healthy Trufant add some pop to a Falcons defense that already has some impressive wins (and, uh, three impressive quarters in the Super Bowl), and the final scoreline Sunday night was, if anything, a bit flattering to a Packers team that struggled until the fourth quarter. The blown penalty call was a soul-crushing one, but Atlanta outplayed Green Bay and got the stadium-opening win they deserved.