ATLANTA — The Falcons insist it's over and done with.
That embarrassing playoff loss to the Packers? A thing of the past. No need to even bring it up.
Aaron Rodgers knows better.
The Green Bay quarterback remembers how it felt ending the 2009 season with a postseason loss.
"They've got to be motivated. I would be," Rodgers said. "I know when we lost to Arizona in the playoffs, that was a big motivator for us coming back the next season to have a good season and make the next step of moving on in the playoffs. I'm sure they're motivated."
On Sunday night, the Falcons (2-2) have a shot at some measure of redemption when they host the Super Bowl champion Packers (4-0) at the Georgia Dome, the same place where Atlanta's last season ended with such a thud.
Flash back to January. The Falcons were riding high, having won 13 games and a division championship during the regular season. As the top-seeded team in the NFC, they earned a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the conference playoffs.
The postseason lasted one game.
Green Bay, a team the Falcons had beaten during the regular season, got hot at the right time. Rodgers kept ducking this way and that to get away from pass rushers, giving himself enough time to carve up the Atlanta secondary with one of the best performances of his career.
He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. He completed all but five of his 36 passes, finishing with 366 yards through the air. He led the Packers to the highest-scoring playoff game in their storied history. Heck, they didn't even need their punter.
The final: Packers 48, Falcons 21.
"That was a pretty clean game," Rodgers said nonchalantly. "We had no mental mistakes. We got the ball to the people we wanted to get it to. We moved the ball pretty effectively. When you combine not turning it over with throwing it where you want, you're going to have pretty good results."
Green Bay kept on winning right through the Super Bowl. The Falcons spent a long, restless offseason wondering how it all went wrong.
"It's one of those things you need to learn from, especially when your last game kind of ends that way," Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said. "We certainly didn't play as well as we would've liked to, but we ran into a team that was playing really well. It takes a little while to get over, but you have to move past it."
Even though the Falcons are again the home team, the tables have turned since that last matchup.
Green Bay is the favorite this time, having won 10 in a row since its last loss on Dec. 19 at New England. The Packers are averaging 37 points a game and no one has come close to shutting down Rodgers, who leads the league in passing efficiency and is coming off a six-touchdown barrage (four passing, two rushing) against Denver.
Clearly, this team has shown no signs of resting on its championship laurels. Their sights are now firmly set on getting to a second straight Super Bowl.
"Last season doesn't have any affect on our thought process moving forward," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're proud of what we accomplished last year. That was an excellent football team ... something that will always be part of the tradition of the Green Bay Packers. But this is a whole different year. We're focused on winning our fifth game and staying on a path that will hopefully take us to Indianapolis."
The Falcons came into the season with the look of a Super Bowl contender. They pulled off a stunning trade on draft day to land receiver Julio Jones, giving an already potent offense another big-play threat. As soon as the lockout ended, they moved quickly in free agency to sign defensive end Ray Edwards, addressing a major weakness — the pass rush — that Rodgers was able to exploit in the playoffs.
But Atlanta has yet to hit its stride. There was a blowout loss at Chicago. There was another setback against division rival Tampa Bay. Even last week, when the Falcons got back to .500, they nearly blew a big lead on lowly Seattle before surviving 30-28.
Jones is coming off a career-best 11 catches for 127 yards against the Seahawks, but Edwards had yet to pick up his first sack in a Falcons uniform. In fact, Atlanta has five sacks through the first four games; one team has fewer.
That won't do against Rodgers.
"We're still figuring things out, there's no doubt about it," Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "But once it does come together for us, I think we'll be a really good team. I think we'll be right where we want to be."
The Packers look like they're already there.
Rodgers has hooked up with eight players for touchdown passes, including three each to Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson. James Starks and Ryan Grant are running the ball well. The defense has given up the second-fewest yards in the NFL (71 per game).
The only apparent weakness — a secondary that has surrendered an average of 336 yards and ranks 31st — can be explained away when one considers the Packers are usually playing with a big lead, forcing opponents to go exclusively to the air in hopes of catching up.
Green Bay tends to give up big yards but also makes a lot of big plays, such as Charles Woodson's interception return for a touchdown last weekend. In all, the Packers have a league-high eight picks.
"There's no denying that we're giving up too many big plays," McCarthy said. "That's something we've focused on."
The Falcons are trying to get the focus off the way last season ended.
A victory Sunday night would be a big step in that direction.
"Last year was last year. It's over," Gonzalez said. "But you remember it. I'd be lying if sat here told you I didn't remember it. It was embarrassing. At the same time, they're a new team, we're a new team. It's a new year. We've just got to go out and play this game and see where we stack up.
"They're the Super Bowl champs. This will be a good gauge to see how good a team we are."
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