(Reuters) – The Atlanta Falcons have revenge and Aaron Rodgers on their mind when they face the champion Green Bay Packers Sunday in a rematch of last season’s NFC divisional playoff game.
Packers quarterback Rodgers had the game of his life in last January’s playoff meeting against the NFC’s top-seeded Falcons and, ominously for Atlanta, he returns in top form.
The Packers are one of two teams still undefeated in the 2011 campaign and Rodgers, named most valuable player of last season’s Super Bowl, has already amassed 1,325 passing yards.
In the 48-21 playoff win over Atlanta in the Georgia Dome last season, Rodgers went 31-of-36 for 366 yards, threw three touchdowns and ran in for another score as the Packers ended the Falcons’ Super Bowl dreams.
Atlanta head coach Mike Smith knows that his team cannot afford to give Rodgers time and space to exploit in the way he did, with his superb footwork, last season.
“It’s going to be important for us this week to try to be disruptive and not let (Rodgers) get comfortable in terms of his pocket presence … something that we learned is that he can really make some plays with his feet,” said Smith.
“He was able to have a presence to get away from pressure and get the ball down the field. You watch this guy operate, and I don’t know if there’s a quarterback in the NFL right now that’s playing more efficiently.”
Atlanta strengthened well in the offseason after a 13-3 record in the 2010 campaign but will be somewhat disappointed to only be 2-2 at this stage.
Nonetheless, last week’s 30-28 win at Seattle will have given Smith’s team a timely boost in confidence ahead of the visit from the champion Packers.
“We came out last week and executed really well,” said quarterback Matt Ryan, “We were good on third downs and we put ourselves in good third down situations. We were able to extend those drives. I think that was what was the difference in our start last week.”
Ryan knows that Atlanta cannot afford to turn the ball over like that did in such a costly fashion during their playoff loss to Green Bay when they had four turnovers.
“One of things that we didn’t do well last year was ball security. We turned the football over a couple of times, me specifically, especially in the first half and we put ourselves in a tough spot,” said Ryan.
“It comes down to us protecting the football a little bit better than we did last year and that’ll help us run the football.”
Other Week Five matchups include an AFC East divisional encounter where the New York Jets visit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots – always a game with a little extra spice and another repeat from last year’s playoffs.
The Jets won that game 28-21 but New England have the top overall offense in the league and Brady leads the league with 1,553 passing yards.
The undefeated Detroit Lions host the Chicago Bears (2-2) Monday.
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)