*Sunday's 20-17 victory for the Falcons didn't feature the high-flying passing offense that has been on display in recent weeks, but what it did show was a return to a patient running attack that wore down the Packers and kept Atlanta's offense on the field during key, time-consuming drives. With the win, the Falcons improve to 9-2, good for first place in the NFC South and alone atop the NFC standings. *
ATLANTA— The longest play of the day for the Falcons in Sunday's 20-17 win over the Green Bay Packers was a portrait of the Falcons' day on offense.
When running back Michael Turner burst through the Packers' first levels of defense in the third quarter for a 26-yard run, he had his eyes set on the end zone, but couldn't quite get there.
Running along the sideline, Turner tiptoed along the edge, trying to stay in bounds and run uncontested into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
"I broke a tackle and got into the secondary," Turner said. "That doesn't happen too often so you want to take advantage of that any chance you get. I broke the last tackle and I tried to stay in, but I kind of went out. I'm mad at myself a little bit."
Six plays later Turner was back in the game and ran around the left side of the Falcons' offensive line for the one-yard touchdown, giving Atlanta the 17-10 lead.
Turner's balancing act was a lot like the Falcons offense in the team's ninth victory of the season, a great effort in balance, but not quite the outcome desired.
Against one of the better defensive teams in the NFL, Atlanta knew points would be hard to come by, but Green Bay's 18th-ranked run defense presented a potential hole for the Falcons to exploit. Even though the passing game that has come alive in recent weeks wasn't always as strong (198 yards passing and one touchdown for quarterback Matt Ryan) it worked just well enough to balance out a running game led by Turner's 110 yards on 23 carries.
Early on the Falcons knew they'd have their chances on the ground against the Packers.
"We definitely ran a little bit more than we did in the last couple of weeks, which is fine by me because I'm the fullback," Ovie Mughelli said. "It's fun to get out there and really get balanced. Me and Mike knew within the first few plays that we could break this defense. We're better than these guys and we can run the ball on this defense. The whole time we campaigned for that. We love our no huddle plays and we're all about what works, but we knew we could get after them from that angle."
The running game worked, anchoring scoring drives that used 10 plays, six plays and two drives for 14 plays.
Atlanta was able to stay patient on offense, chipping away on the ground and striking through the air when possible. The patience paid off, allowing the Falcons offense to produce five plays of 15 yards or more, slowly wearing down the Packers defense as they waited for a big play to come.
"I don't force anything and just let things come to me," Turner said. "You never know what play will be the big play. You just have to stay patient and stay positive and it will come."
Though all their touchdowns came from inside the five-yard line, big plays like Turner's 26-yard run got them in position and the long drives helped to continue to weaken Green Bay's defense. Late in the game, they could see the effect their style of play was having.
"It's pretty obvious and it's been something we've seen all year," center Todd McClure said. "We're tops in the league in third down conversions and if we can keep the defense out on the field, we know it'll wear on them. That's one big thing we try to do each week, control the ball and control the clock and keep our defense on the bench as long as we can."
While the time of possession margin wasn't as lopsided in Atlanta's favor as it has been in recent weeks, Atlanta's bruising and punishing commitment to the running game gave them the desired result.
As the Packers wore down, the Falcons were able to begin to open up their offense, getting wide receiver Roddy White involved, catching two passes for twenty yards. They could see the physical toll their game plan was taking on Green Bay.
"It gave us a lot of confidence," Mughelli said. "We've learned that killer instinct. If we see a wounded animal, we try to put it away. If we see a D-lineman on his knees or a DB cringing before they hit Mike or me, we take advantage of that. We go full steam ahead. It's a swagger that we have on offense and on this whole team."
Atlanta wasn't as overpowering on offense as they have been lately, they stuck with what was working and the ground patience paid off.
Much like Turner's near-touchdown run, they were tripped up at times on Sunday, but they kept their footing just well enough to get close. And then they got their eventual outcome, improving to 9-2 and remaining in the driver's seat at the top of the NFC South.