Green Bay Packers keep playoff hopes alive with win over Atlanta Falcons

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A smattering of boos cascaded down on the Green Bay Packers at the half, trailing by double digits on a bone-chilling afternoon at Lambeau Field.

This wasn't a good sign for a team that hasn't played well late in games, especially without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Coach Mike McCarthy went into the locker room wondering how much energy his players had with the team's playoff prospects in jeopardy.

Green Bay responded with its most complete performance in weeks. Matt Flynn threw for 258 yards and a maligned defense forced a key fourth-quarter turnover in a 22-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday that ended a five-game winless stretch.

"Good to win, it's been a while. Forgot what it felt like," McCarthy said.

"But I'll say this - I really like the football team, particularly at halftime, coming in, getting booed at home, and just the energy in the locker room. They never blinked, they stayed the course," said the even-keeled coach.

It came down to defense in the final few minutes of a nail-biting fourth quarter.

Mike Neal's sack forced Matt Ryan to fumble and defensive lineman Johnny Jolly scooped up the loose ball. Four plays later, Flynn found Andrew Quarless for a 2-yard touchdown pass that gave the Packers a 22-21 lead (6-6-1) with about 12 minutes left.

"We needed to have fun. That's what we did today," Jolly said. "We went out there and left everything that we had and made plays and had fun."

Quarless' TD completed a comeback from an 11-point halftime deficit and whipped the bundled-up fans into a frigid frenzy.

It was 9 degrees when the game started, with a wind chill of minus-1. The stadium looked as if it was encased in a snow globe at times with much of the game played while light, powdery snowflakes gently fell to the worn turf.

Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant missed a 52-yard field goal attempt into the wind with 6:42 left. The Falcons (3-10) got to the 33 with 2 minutes left, but Tony Gonzalez dropped a short pass from Ryan under tight coverage by Jarrett Bush.

The Falcons, who play home games at the Georgia Dome, didn't think weather was as much of a factor as the missed opportunities.

"We can't talk about one specific play that was the difference," coach Mike Smith said. "We had our chances to make some plays in all three phases and we didn't."

Flynn finished 24 for 32 with an interception in his second start for Rodgers, who has been out since fracturing his left collarbone during a 27-20 loss to the Bears on Nov. 4.

It's been a struggle ever since for Green Bay, which fell from first place in the NFC North to fighting to stay in the playoff chase.

"We played our best football in the second half, and as a coach that's what you look for in your football team," McCarthy said.

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It didn't look so good for Green Bay after linebacker Sean Weatherspoon's 71-yard interception return with 23 seconds remaining in the second quarter gave the Falcons a 21-10 lead and prompted some fans to voice their displeasure.

A pass from Flynn appeared to carom off linebacker Paul Worrilow's shoe and chest and into the hands of Weatherspoon. He slowly trudged his way back up the field past Packers players who thought the ball touched the ground.

Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang whiffed on a tackled around the 22-yard line. From there, the 6-foot-2, 244-pound Weatherspoon got a slow-motion escort into the end zone.

"It was a great play and something that sparked us, but we came out a little bit lackadaisical on defense if you ask me in the second half," Weatherspoon said.

Ryan finished 20 of 35 for 206 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while Steven Jackson had 71 yards rushing on 15 carries.

Otherwise, a Green Bay defense that had allowed more than 200 yards rushing in each of its previous two games bounced back.

NOTES: Mason Crosby kicked three field goals, including a 25-yarder late in the third quarter to get Green Bay within 21-16. ... Packers RB Eddie Lacy had 65 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run on 20 carries. He returned in the second half after twisting his right ankle. ... Falcons S Thomas DeCoud left with a head injury on Lacy's score at the end of the first quarter.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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