Falcons face Packers with fresh memories of 2015 meltdown
ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Falcons have been through this before. A promising start to the season, only to get sidetracked by a deflating loss.
A year ago, it led to a total meltdown.
A victory Sunday over the Green Bay Packers would go a long way toward showing this team is different.
The Falcons (4-3) are coming off their second straight loss, a 33-30 setback to lowly San Diego that had the feel of a game Atlanta totally gave away.
The Falcons squandered a 17-point lead at home, the Chargers' comeback aided by Matt Ryan's crucial interception late in regulation.
Then, in overtime, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn made the ill-fated decision to go for it on fourth-and-short in his own end of the field. The Chargers held, setting up the game-winning field goal.
A similar defeat in 2015 sparked a six-game losing streak that turned a 6-1 start into an 8-8 finish.
''We started off so good,'' safety Ricardo Allen recalled. ''Then we didn't do so good for a stretch. Me personally, I even felt a little panicky, man. Sometimes you're like, `I just want to get back to the way it way it was.' You try to push, you try to press, you try to do things that you shouldn't be doing. That's something you can't do. You've just got to do your job.''
Green Bay (4-2) is beginning a stretch of four road games in five weeks, facing an Atlanta offense that leads the league in scoring (32.7 points per game) and total yards (433.6). While Ryan has done a good job spreading the ball around, there's no doubt about his favorite receiver.
Julio Jones leads the Falcons with 40 receptions for 830 yards, more than twice as many catches as anyone else on the team.
The Packers know they've got their work cut out.
''I've never seen anyone like him, period,'' cornerback Demetri Goodson said. ''He's big, he's fast, he runs great routes, he's strong. Just the total package.''
Here's some other things to watch for when the Packers visit the Falcons:
NEW RUNNERS: Knile Davis is expected to be a bigger part of the offense in his second game with the Packers. The running back was acquired in an Oct. 18 trade with Kansas City to bolster Green Bay's injury-depleted backfield.
With less than 72 hours to prepare, Davis carried only two times for 1 yard in a victory over Chicago. Obviously, he's had a lot more time to get up to speed for the Falcons. ''I like what he brings to the table,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Atlanta could also have some changes at running back after Tevin Coleman went down with a hamstring injury in the loss to the Chargers. Terron Ward was promoted from the practice squad, and the Falcons also signed former 1,000-yard rusher Stevan Ridley to bolster their depth behind starter Devonta Freeman.
BEASLEY EMERGES: OLB Vic Beasley is finally showing why the Falcons drafted him No. 8 overall in 2015. After a disappointing rookie season, he's become a force at getting to the quarterback. Beasley has 5+ sacks in the past three games, leaving him tied for fourth in a league with 6+ overall.
Atlanta will be counting on him to put some heat on Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who is coming off a franchise-record 39 completions against the Bears.
THIN SECONDARY: The Packers will face Atlanta's potent passing attack without their top two - and possibly top three - cornerbacks at the beginning of the season.
Damarious Randall underwent surgery for a groin injury and is out this week, while Sam Shields is on injured reserve after sustaining a concussion in the season opener.
In addition, Quinten Rollin has missed the past two games with a groin problem. If Rollins can't go, the Packers would be left with the young tandem of Goodson and LaDarius Gunter, along with versatile Micah Hyde.
MATTY ICE: Ryan leads the league in passing yards (2,348) and is the second-rated passer behind New England's Tom Brady. But late-game interceptions the past two weeks have rekindled memories of 2015, when Ryan was plagued by a series of perplexing turnovers that contributed to Atlanta's meltdown. Ryan is eager to get back to the form he showed during a four-game winning streak.
EXTRA REST: For the second week in a row, the Falcons will be playing a team coming off a 10-day break. The Packers haven't played since their Thursday night win over the Bears . San Diego also had extra time to prepare for Atlanta after playing on Thursday night. Quinn called it ''a quirk of the schedule'' and doesn't think it will have any impact on the game.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .
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