Jalen Collins played the role of robber Sunday as the Falcons beat the Packers with a little of their own medicine.
Operating with malice and intent, the cornerback from LSU stripped Green Bay fullback Aaron Ripkowski near the goal line Sunday, recovered, and rolled into end zone for a touchback that Atlanta converted into a 17-0 lead.
Threatening to make it a 10-7 game early in the second quarter, the Packers faced first-and-10 from the Atlanta 23-yard line with quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the shot gun and Ripkowski set to his left. Wide receiver Randall Cobb motioned from left to right behind both of them, and pulled Atlanta’s defense out of balance.
At the snap, Rodgers handed to Ripkowski and he plowed through a sizable hole left of center.
The Falcons caught up with him around the 11-yard line, with Collins flying in from the left side and yanking the ball out as linebacker Deion Jones and safety Ricardo Allen led the tackle even with Ripkowski bulling forward. Atlanta’s second-year pro was going for it.
“Oh, of course,” Collins said after finishing with three tackes, a pass breakup, a fumble forced and a fumble recovey. “Rico hit him, second man go get the ball. I saw the ball.”
After he ripped it out, the ball tumbled toward the goal line, and Collins dove on it at about the 1. He squiggled into the end zone before a Packer (right tackle Bryan Bulaga) could touch him down in the field of play, creating the touchback.
“The ball was rolling that way, and we’re already so far back I might as well just get the ball and … it was just so close I was like, ‘Hopefully, they’ll call a touchback,’ ” Collins said. “Either way, the offense was going to have the ball.”
This was a familiar concept to Green Bay. The Packers a 11 takeaways in their first 10 games while going 4-6, and then 15 as they won their final six regular season games.
Quarterback Matt Ryan made Collins’ thievery pay off, triggering a nine-play, 80-yard drive that he finished with a 14-yard scramble for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead with 7:24 to go in the half.
Ryan’s scoring play was a beauty, as he took off right under pressure with a subtle move that froze Green Bay linebacker Joe Thomas.
Atlanta did not turn the ball over Sunday, and Allen registered the game’s only other takeaway with an interception later in the second quarter. The Falcons punted shortly after that pick.