GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers had a little postgame fun on Sunday with the Green Bay Packers’ third-down statistics, quizzing PR man Tom Fanning in the middle of his news conference on what the offense’s 7-for-13 performance was percentage-wise.
“Over 50 percent,” Fanning replied with a small smirk.
But you didn’t have to be a mathematician to figure out what a difference some third-down success had on the Packers offense during the team’s 34-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. After converting just 8 of 35 of their third downs (22.9 percent) in back-to-back-to-back losses to Seattle, Minnesota and Arizona, the 53.8 percent success rate Sunday didn’t translate to a boatload of yards (300) but led to three touchdown drives of 70 yards or more and an offensive rhythm the Packers hadn’t been in for awhile.
What both interim coach Joe Philbin liked on Monday afternoon after watching the film and Rodgers liked after the game was how the Packers converted: two with Rodgers scrambles; two with completions of 20 or more yards, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb; two with shorter completions; and one on a short-yardage Aaron Jones run.
Two of the conversions were of third-and-10 or more; four others were third-and-3 or less.
Although third-down sacks remained a bugaboo — Rodgers absorbed three of them — he was 5 of 6 for 70 yards and a touchdown (154.9 rating) and ran twice for 28 more yards. The Packers also had a 30-yard Davante Adams catch wiped out by a Jimmy Graham penalty on a pick play.
“Those were big plays,” Philbin said as the Packers began preparations for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. “It was a little bit of everything. We had some good plays in the pocket that we converted, and we had a third-and-10 touchdown to Randall, we had a third-and-14 long one (to Adams), and we had a couple scrambles, and a run (by Jones), one (pass) to Jimmy. It was a better day.”
After his first win as head coach, Philbin went home and watched the Bears’ 15-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams. He guessed his players did, too.
“I imagine a lot of those guys were watching (and) intelligent men that they are, (they know) we’re going to have to play an awfully good football game on Sunday at noon in Chicago,” Philbin said of a Chicago defense that ranks third in the NFL in total defense (309.9 yards per game) and scoring defense (19.0 points per game). We’re going to have to play as well as well as we’ve played, for sure, if not better.”
Philbin said he heard from Mike McCarthy following the win but wouldn’t divulge what the ex-Packers coach told him. … Philbin predicted his first failed replay challenge, which the Packers felt should have overturned a Julio Jones catch, will be sent to the league for review. … Philbin again admitted he should not have challenged the next one, which also stood as called. “I did establish an NFL record,” Philbin said of using up his challenges before the game was 2 minutes old. “That’s forever in the books.”