ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons found themselves in another tight game.
This time, they came through with the winning play.
After two excruciating losses, the Falcons rallied for a 33-32 victory over the Green Bay Packers when Matt Ryan threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu with 31 seconds remaining Sunday.
With Julio Jones shut down in the second half, Ryan turned to Sanu to bail out Atlanta (5-3). He caught five passes for 50 yards on the final possession, the last of them a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone after he got matched against linebacker Jake Ryan.
The Green Bay player didn’t have a chance. Sanu raced past him and hauled in the pass right in front of the goalposts, the ball easily clearing Ryan’s outstretched hands.
“We’ve got the greatest receiver in the NFL, but we’ve got other great guys in that room, too,” Sanu said. “When our number is called upon, we went out there to do what we do.”
The Falcons were coming off a 26-24 loss at Seattle and a 33-30 overtime setback to San Diego in which they squandered a 17-point lead at home.
Given what happened a year ago — Atlanta started the season 6-1, then lost six in a row and missed the playoffs — it was imperative to turn things around against the Packers. It didn’t look good when Aaron Rodgers threw his fourth touchdown pass, putting the Packers ahead with 3:58 remaining.
“It’s just finishing,” Sanu said. “We didn’t finish the last two weeks and we finished this week.”
Sanu had nine catches for 84 yards, both season highs in his first year with the Falcons. Atlanta needed every one of them, since Jones was held to three catches for 29 yards and targeted only once in the second half — a dropped pass on the final possession.
But Jones helped Sanu get open on the winning play, drawing two defenders when they lined up on the same side of the field.
Ryan was 28 of 35 for 288 yards and three touchdowns.
“They don’t call the guy Matty Ice for no reason,” Sanu said. “The guy has ice in his veins.”
Rodgers threw for 246 yards, teaming up with a bunch of unknown receivers as the banged-up Packers played without six starters. Linebacker Clay Matthews and receiver Randall Cobb were among those who couldn’t go because of hamstring injuries.
Three Green Bay receivers — Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis — got their first career touchdown. Allison, in fact, had just been promoted from the practice squad and never caught a pass in an NFL game. Ditto for Davis, a rookie who had mainly been used as a returner.
“That’s our job, to go out and make plays regardless of who’s in there,” Allison said.
The Packers took a 32-26 lead after the Falcons were caught with too many men on the field, giving Green Bay a first down rather than having to go for a fourth-and-1. Rodgers went to Janis for a 7-yard touchdown with 3:58 remaining, followed by a 2-point conversion.
It wasn’t enough. Sanu’s touchdown tied the game, and Matt Bryant booted through the winning extra point. Bryant had already become the Falcons career leading scorer, passing Morten Andersen, with a PAT after Atlanta’s first TD.
SACKING THE PACK
Adrian Clayborn had the first multi-sack game of his six-year NFL career, bringing down Rodgers twice in the second half.
Vic Beasley Jr. also had a sack, giving him 6 1-2 over the last four games and 7 1-2 for the season.
Rodgers was also Green Bay’s leading rusher with a career-high 60 yards on six carries. He broke his previous best of 57 yards in 2012, and posted the highest rushing total by a Packers quarterback since Don Majkowski’s 88-yard effort in 1990.
The Falcons lost tight end Jacob Tamme to a right shoulder injury on the opening possession.
Tamme took a hit at the end of a 13-yard reception and left the field holding his right arm.
Packers: Return home next Sunday to face the Indianapolis Colts (3-5), in what will be the only game played in Green Bay during the month of November. After that, it’s three straight on the road.
Falcons: Have only three days to prepare for a Thursday night game at Tampa Bay (3-4), which is coming off a 30-24 overtime loss to Oakland. This will be the second meeting between the NFC South rivals; the Buccaneers opened the season with a 31-24 victory in Atlanta.