Should the Packers have let the Falcons score sooner?

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy watches a replay during the first of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Mike McCarthy at work, sort of. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In today’s AJC, much is made of the masterful way in which the Atlanta Falcons calibrated their game-winning drive against Green Bay. Among other things, the Falcons drove 75 yards in 3:27 while stopping the clock only twice on incompletions and twice more when Mohamed Sanu was shoved out of bounds. They didn’t want to leave time for Aaron Rodgers to answer, and they succeeded in draining off all but 31 seconds. Great stuff.

But today we wonder — and this isn’t a second-guess; I said this in the press box as it was happening — if the Packers should have played it differently. Mike McCarthy had two timeouts at his disposal and declined to use either. He’d gotten away with something similar at the end of the first half, Rodgers having taken Green Bay to a field goal in 27 seconds, but this wasn’t the first half: This was win-or-lose time, and time had become a bigger issue for the visitors, bigger (I submit) than the score.

And so we ask: Should the Packers have let the Falcons score the go-ahead touchdown?

I know, I know. You’re probably saying, “Nobody in his right mind would cede a lead at the end of a game.” And I’m aware that the most famous example of an NFL coach allowing an opponent to score lives forever in Packers infamy: Mike Holmgren did it — and admitted later he’d miscounted what down it was — in the Super Bowl of January 1998 against the Broncos.

But that game was tied, and the Packers — even if Holmgren had gotten his downs right — were going to need a touchdown just to re-tie it. Had Green Bay allowed a touchdown Sunday, it would have needed only a field goal to win. So hear me out.

Were I McCarthy, I wouldn’t have pulled a Gator Flop with 3:58 remaining and the Falcons at their 25. But once the Falcons moved inside the Packers 30 and were clearly as concerned with taking as much time as they could before actually scoring — they let nearly 20 seconds expire ahead of the two-minute warning — defensive surrender should have become a viable strategy.

It wasn’t as if the Packers — without Clay Matthews and three regular cornerbacks — had stopped the Falcons much all day. The home side had punted twice, once in each half. In the first half, six consecutive snaps yielded six Falcons first downs (one via penalty) and a touchdown. On their climactic 11-play drive, the Falcons faced no down/distance worse than second-and-10. Their third downs, both converted, were third-and-1 and third-and-2. The winning touchdown came on first-and-10.

The Falcons, who would finish with 367 yards, were getting whatever they wanted on offense. (There were no turnovers in this careening game.) But so were the Packers. And here, if you’re McCarthy, don’t you have to ask: “Are my odds better of stopping this offense on the road on this day with my undermanned defense, or with taking the ball with more than a minute left and letting my quarterback go back to work?”

For Green Bay, the worst-case scenario wasn’t falling behind. That was always a possibility, and once the Falcons broached the 30-yard line it seemed a fait accompli. The worst-case scenario was in falling behind with not enough time remaining, which is what happened. Maybe the memory of Rodgers and those 27 first-half seconds swayed McCarthy’s thinking. If so, he erred.

Come the second half, the Falcons had made Vic Beasley Jr. their “spy.” There was no way Rodgers was going to scramble for 23 yards, as happened on that first-half drive, again.

Thirty-one seconds might have been enough, just, had Jordy Nelson hauled down Rodgers’ throw to the Atlanta 48 on second down, but Keanu Neal defended and Nelson couldn’t. As it was, Rodgers’ fourth-down incompletion came at 0:09 and the Packers 18 yards shy of midfield, still with a timeout at their disposal.

Credit the Falcons for stopping the Packers’ final fling. (It was, as noted, a terrific victory — the best under Dan Quinn.) But I’m not sure McCarthy gave his team its best chance to win at the end, which happened before in a game involving Quinn. (NFC championship, January 2015.)

I concede that it would have taken a ton of guts to allow a trailing opponent to claim the lead inside the final two minutes. But this is the NFL, and if you give a good quarterback time, he can find a way. McCarthy didn’t leave quite enough time for his quarterback. He either needed to burn his timeouts on defense or let the Falcons score. He stood on the sideline and did neither. His team lost.

Reader Comments 0

49 comments
Bonscott55
Bonscott55

If a frog had wings, who cares? Falcons won,nuff said!

Falcons63
Falcons63

Am I surprised that someone from the AJC would write such a ridiculous column?  No..

TideDawg
TideDawg

Finding fault for winning is not as easy as finding fault for losing. Our elite sports writers are looking for faults no matter the outcome of a game. Experts in negativity, not sports. So far, they have helped Paul Johnson keep his job and they have tried every way possible to get Georgia's coaches fired.

Eric_C
Eric_C

@TideDawg That is interesting perspective, and it is good news for Dan Quinn that it was on the other sideline for a change. :) 

0.673803130547
0.673803130547

Agree that they could/should have used their timeouts in order to force Falcons to choose between their best chance to score (passing) and burning clock by wasting a few downs running the ball. Instead, they allowed the Falcons to totally dictate the end of the game. 


The Packers allowed this at the end of the 1st half as well, as you rightly point out, though they were still able to get a field goal. (They would have had a shot at the end zone if they had used their timeouts appropriately.)


But letting them score in that situation is incorrect. The field is compressed in the red zone and it was certainly not assured that the Falcons would punch it in. Ryan almost threw a pick-six earlier on the drive. 


cshudson24
cshudson24

This article is comedy right? YOU NEVER LET ANYONE SCORE!!!

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

It's Monday morning quarterbacking who really cares, if their coach didn't do what Mark Bradley said. As a Falcon fan you just want your team to win.

JohnmLEECE
JohnmLEECE

That is one of the silliest things I have heard. The Falcons were no sure bet to score a touchdown so to "give it to them" to save time would have been crazy. Now...in hindsight, knowing the outcome, you can say that. 

charlestonian77
charlestonian77

not sure if you folks remember or not but another coach did just that a few years ago.

the opposing team was at the 10 yard line or there abouts an there was about a minute or so left. 

instead of stiffening up the d and trying to prevent the score which would have put that team ahead by less than a td. the coach allowed the opposing team to score quickly.....

giving his team the time it needed to score the winning points.

it was a thing of beauty when the opposing coach realized he had been out coached while giving the opposing team the opportunity to win the game.

ill let all you 'experts' try and figure out which game i am talking about. 


lmao,.

Eric_C
Eric_C

@charlestonian77 superbowl 46...that was a much different situation though as the Giants were assured of a chip shot FG to put them ahead and could run the clock out before kicking it.  Scoring a TD is a whole different game.

Rhynos4242
Rhynos4242

So sorry Mark that the Falcons actually won a game.  I know how much it pains you when teams from this state win.  You, and most AJC writers today, and historically, have loved to openly root against the home teams.  I guess it sells papers and generates clicks, but it's a weak and childish ploy (and it apparently still works since I clicked and am replying).



khd713
khd713

This is the stupidest column I've ever read by a sports writer – seriously. The Packers only needed a field goal even if the Falcons scored. They had a pretty decent chance to stop Atlanta with their defense, and as it turned out they ended up with 37 seconds to get into field goal range, which is 27 more than Matt Ryan had a few years ago against the Bears. In the end, Rodgers didn't run out of time – he ran out of downs. Stupid, stupid column, and yet another reason why sportswriters are never asked for advice by coaches.

LarvellBlanks
LarvellBlanks

Good grief, no, they shouldn't have let the Falcons score. There's a big difference between needing a field goal and having to get a touchdown. There was plenty of opportunity to stop us from getting a touchdown -- I sure didn't feel it was a given that we would score one. Maybe they should have called a timeout or two, but their best chance was to keep us from the end zone.

TideDawg
TideDawg

Let's see......where were the Falcons  at this part of the season last year? Yep! They just got there on a different course this year. Take down the Bucs Thursday night and they're still in the drivers seat but Carolina is still the biggest threat......unless Newton keeps whining and crying that he should be getting special treatment. Give him a party dress and and a "no contact" jersey. Maybe that would make him happy. Matt Ryan has been mauled in every game and hasn't complained openly so why should Newton get special attention......because he dresses like a clown or because he thinks he's so special?

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TideDawg

Agree that Panthers still pose the primary threat. Gotta play up there, too.

Meanwhile, Winston's 3-0 vs the Falcons. Need to end that streak Thursday night.

TideDawg
TideDawg

@DawgNole @Eric_C I agree he is a "clown".....a very talented clown. But, his style is taunting, clowning and showboating ......but only when they win, otherwise, it''s whining, crying, and complaining! Distasteful ingredients for a player that could be great for kids, and respected by all.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Eric_C 

Newton's a clown--no doubt--but he and his boys will give ATL all it can handle and more up there. Better hope we have more than a one-game lead on them when we make that trip to Charlotte.

DawgNole
DawgNole

That 1971 "gator flop" is one of the most disgraceful actions in the history of college football--and certainly tainted the record it enabled gator qb john reaves to achieve. gator athletics never known for integrity.

TideDawg
TideDawg

@DawgNole I remember! They could have achieved the same result without being so obvious, but, as we see time and again, young adults ain't the smartest in the world and often act without thinking. Getting caught smoking pot is bad enough, but being stupid enough to get caught is even worse.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket 

Well, your bed partner blowhio sure acts like it's bad when a UGA player gets nailed.

Perhaps you should pose your question to him.

falconfever
falconfever

I thought they might do it. Glad they didn't

Falcons2013
Falcons2013

I always consider this strategy and quite honestly I was faulting the falcons for not burning the time with one more run as the falcons also had time outs left if necessary. Most of us were concerned when we scored that we had left too much time on clock. As it turned out we stopped them and that was the case whether there were 30 seconds or a minute and a half. Anything under two minutes and the packers are throwing be it 30 seconds or 90 seconds. There are times I would consider letting them score... I remember a game involving the Patriots two years back but with this Falcons team and Ryans late game picks this year and last, if I were Packers I would just D up best I could as they attempted.

Eric_C
Eric_C

@Falcons2013 Yes, I was seriously concerned myself because 31 seconds and two timeouts seemed like an eternity for Rodgers to gain 40 yards.  I applaud the coaching staff though for getting it down as far as they did.  In the past, they would have left 1:20 and almost assured a loss. 

Eric_C
Eric_C

I'm not sure why folks are being so negative.  As a Falcons fan, I'm just glad this is not something about why the Falcons failed, ha.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Eric_C: "I'm not sure why folks are being so negative."

________________

After their 50 YEARS of failure to win a championship, it's no surprise at all that the Falcons' fanbase is jaded.

Eric_C
Eric_C

@DawgNole @Eric_C No, no, no, I'm one of those fans too!  I'm just not sure why folks are so upset about the angle that Bradley is taking.

moboman
moboman

The Falcons redzone scoring percentage history over the past several years doesnt earn that type of respect.  I would also gamble that the birds wouldnt score a TD, given recent history.  Betting that the GB thought was that we would be held to a fieldgoal try and onside kick attempt.  

RangeRover
RangeRover

Mark,

Concisely and simply put, this is a really dumb suggestion.

You may want to start thinking about that retirement notice, my friend. 

DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

The columns of yours where the comments are visible under "Reader Comments" accept my comments. The ones where you have to click on "Reader Comments" to see the comments always give an error message when I try to comment. Likes work under either. Anyone else experience that?

DawgNole
DawgNole

@DaltonbywayofBickley

Just one of many technical issues challenging the AJC and its dwindling readership ever since the paper "reformatted" and threw up a pay wall a couple of years ago.

Call "Customer Care" and you'll talk to someone in Texas who'll eventually forward you back to a first-line IT person in ATL, who in turn will probably have to "escalate" your issue to an actual IT person.

I've endured the process several times, and there's no way to sugarcoat it. Slow, cumbersome, painful.

Oogabooga
Oogabooga

You've got to be kidding me! That's the dumbest thing I ever heard. It wasn't up to GB what the Falcons did. It was clearly up to Atlanta. They ruled the field, the clock and the outcome.

Falcons were the better team yesterday!

E983
E983

Who cares.

Gary
Gary

You sound like a packers fan.  What if can change every game

Eric_C
Eric_C

I'm one who thinks this should be done more often, but maybe not this time.  In this case, if the Falcons had been 1st and goal inside the 1, I'd say let them score, but from where they did score, it was far from a guarantee.  Remember, this was an offense not far removed from many red zone issues, and the Packers are one of the toughest teams in short yardage goal line situations.  Having said that, the Packers certainly would have helped themselves in hindsight by using a timeout before the scoring play to Sanu. 


Overall, the Packers did the right thing by trying to prevent the touchdown...especially if you consider the Falcons stopped the Packers on 4 downs afterwards.

GT71
GT71

Clear writing isn't a major concern at the good old AJC (but then, neither are spelling, syntax and usage).  For instance:'...the Falcons drove 75 yards in 3:27 and only twice stopped the clock — twice on incompletions , once when Mohamed Sanu was shoved out of bounds'.  So, MB, were those 3 times your 2 times or did they stop the clock 2 more times for a total of 5?  From the article, hard to say, huh?  And this, 'But that game was tied, and the Packers — even if Holmgren had gotten his downs right — were going to need a touchdown just to re-tie it.'  Was it tied or not?  If they scored a TD would they not be ahead by 7?  Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.  But the birds pulled it out - no Matt INTs this time - so it was a good day for the Falcons.





Big Wally
Big Wally

Of course you don't let them score.  Falcons have thrown two 4th quarter picks in the last two games.  There is always that possibility.

BLowE12
BLowE12

I too wonder why Mark Bradley still has this job.

GT71
GT71

@BLowE12  As the repeated line said, 'It's a mystery'.  The three men in a tub - Bradley, Schultz and Hummer - certainly would be in competition for the worst set of sports writers in America.  And to think, they once had Bisher, McGill and I'll even count Grizzard.  And now, these 3 stooges.  As Furman would say, 'Selah.'


Bobby Sinclair
Bobby Sinclair

I too wondered if they should just let the Falcons score and have more clock to work with. On the other hand, you can have all the time in the WORLD, and if you can't covert a first down in 4 tries, you have to give the ball over on downs. That's what happened. Remember - they weren't "rushing up to the ball" in a desperate attempt to "get a play off". GB called the plays they wanted and ran them. For ONCE, why not just give the Falcons D - which generally doesn't deserve it - a little, tiny SCRAP of credit?

GT71
GT71

@Bobby Sinclair  You are correct.  When they needed it, they got the D.  Of course, they gave up lots of points, but late in the game, they got 'er done.