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Packers show what they're made of without starting left tackle

ATLANTA -- The message didn't include any inspiring words. It wasn't a pep talk. It didn't come with any extra passion or zeal.

Instead, Packers coach Mike McCarthy simply turned to Marshall Newhouse and told the player who started the season as a backup right tackle that he'd now be shifting over to the left side as quarterback Aaron Rodgers' key protector.

"Just set your feet and do the same thing you do on the right," said the coach who'd lost his starting left tackle, Chad Clifton, to a leg injury moments earlier.

And just like that, with a hint of nonchalance, the Packers spent the next 2 ½ quarters proving why they have become the most feared team in the NFL: In the face of their most daunting challenge of the season, nobody panicked. Nobody flinched.

During a 25-14 win against the Falcons, which began with a 14-point deficit, the Packers instead revealed a side they'd yet to show this season. They proved, even when it isn't going their way, that they've got the goods to stay on track.

"It was one of those games that you're proud of the adversity we had to deal with," said Rodgers, who beat down that adversity the way he's now beaten down the five teams he's faced.

Consider the circumstances facing the Packers midway through the second quarter: Clifton was just carted to the locker room when, six plays later, Rodgers was sacked on two consecutive plays, causing the offense to settle for a field goal. Oh, and Atlanta had already scored touchdowns on their only two possessions to lead 14-0.

What the Packers did from that moment forward wasn't just impressive, it was remarkable. Both on offense and defense.

For the rest of the game, the defense responded by holding Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to 10 completions on 22 attempts for 87 yards. They sacked him once and picked off two of his passes. During that span, Ryan's passer rating was 18.56.

"We gave up two touchdowns by our mistakes, but then we were able to buckle down," linebacker Clay Matthews said.

Atlanta never scored another point.

For the rest of the game on offense, Rodgers completed passes to nine receivers (he used 12 overall in the game). He was 19 of 30 for 311 yards and two touchdowns, sacked twice. During that span, his passer rating was 120.28.

"There was no panic," Rodgers said. "We just withstood that wave of attack."

Green Bay scored 25 unanswered points.

None of this should discount the challenges the Packers could face if they are without Clifton for an extended period. It was clear at times Sunday that Green Bay's line, despite the courageous efforts of Newhouse and right tackle Derek Sherrod, is susceptible to pressure without Clifton and Bryan Bulaga.

But those vulnerabilities only provided more illustration of the brilliance currently being orchestrated by Rodgers, who made several sensational throws on his way to 396 yards of passing.

On two occasions, when the Falcons nearly pulled Rodgers to the ground, he completed a pair of passes that brought back memories of last year's 48-21 thumping in the playoffs in the same venue. And Green Bay's defense fed off of it.

"You could really tell by the (Georgia Dome) crowd," Matthews said. "When Aaron was in charge with the ball in his hands, it was almost like, 'Here we go again.' Obviously, you take the crowd out of the game and the momentum swings our way."

That's exactly what happened with 3:53 left in the third quarter. With the Packers still down by five points, Rodgers threw a breathtaking pass across the middle of the field to James Jones, who streaked for a 70-yard touchdown and a 15-14 lead. No longer did this feel like a game controlled by Atlanta. No longer did it feel like Green Bay's adversity was about to expose a potential weakness in a 4-0 team.

Instead, the Packers proved they were capable of handling the biggest challenge they've faced since winning the Super Bowl, and why they are the favorites to win another one.

"We're getting better each week," Matthews said. "We just need to put it all together. We're 5-0, but we haven't played a complete game."

If that's the case, just imagine what it'll be like when they do.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

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