The Packers exorcised their demons with a gritty, come-from-behind, 28-27 win over the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
It was a game that, following one of the most controversial officials calls in NFL history, produced more officiating problems for the Packers, most prominently what appeared to be a fumble by the Saints’ Darren Sproles on a kickoff return. The Packers appeared to recover the fumble but Referee Jeff Triplette ruled that Sproles was down by contact, which allowed the Saints to retain possession. It was a play that followed what might be the Packers’ most important offensive series of the season to date.
They began their game-winning drive at their 43 yard line following a New Orleans punt. Cedric Benson gained eight yards on the ground and Aaron Rodgers followed with a short pass to Randall Cobb that moved the sticks.
Two more short completions gained another first down at the Saints 28, and then a nicely timed shovel pass to Cobb broke for 17 yards to the Saints 11.
On second down, Rodgers found Jordy Nelson over the middle at the one yard line and Nelson carried cornerback Corey White into the end zone and the Packers had a 28-27 lead with 7:05 to play in the game. It was Rodgers’ fourth touchdown pass of the game, but this one was thrown with a bloody scratch down his right cheek, the result of a facemask penalty against the Saints in the third quarter that forced Rodgers to the bench for one play, a play that threatened to collapse the Packers’ season.
Down by a point, Drew Brees and the Saints offense immediately went to work. Brees converted a critical fourth-and-two play at the Packers 45, then moved the Saints into field goal range with a 14-yard completion to Lance Moore with about four minutes left in the game.
On third and four from the Packers 25, Brees’ pass was broken up by Packers rookie safety Jerron McMillian. Kicker Garrett Hartley followed with an apparent field goal that put the Saints in the lead, but holding was called against the Saints and Hartley had to try again.
First, the Packers gave five yards back with encroachment. Then, from 48 yards, Hartley’s kick sailed wide to the left.
New Orleans took a 24-21 lead with 3:49 to play in the third quarter when Brees completed an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Joseph Morgan, who ran by cornerback Sam Shields and into the clear.
The Saints increased that lead following a Patrick Robinson interception of a Rodgers deep ball for Jordy Nelson that was underthrown. Brees converted a third-and-17 play with a pass to Marques Colston, and Brees followed that with a 27-yard completion to Colston at the Packers 15. The Packers defense held and the Saints settled for a 27-yard field goal by Hartley that upped the Saints’ lead to 27-21.
New Orleans threatened to tie the game on their first possession of the second half, which went 72 yards in 15 plays, but the Packers defense held from the two-yard line on three consecutive pass plays, Morgan Burnett and Tramon Williams breaking up would-be completions on second and third downs. The Saints elected to kick a field goal that cut the Packers’ lead to 21-17.
Rodgers and company kept the offensive pressure on with a promising drive that was aided by a facemask penalty against the Saints on a third-down play from the Saints four-yard line. Rodgers was the player facemasked and he was poked in the eye on the play, which occurred with 5:19 to play in the third quarter.
Graham Harrell replaced Rodgers at quarterback and fumbled his intended handoff to Benson on the next play. The Saints recovered the ball at the eight-yard line.
In the first half, Rodgers marched the Packers 62 yards in seven plays on the Packers’ second possession of the game. The big plays in the drive were passes of 15 and 18 yards to Nelson. From the Saints 12 yard line, Rodgers scrambled away from the rush and to his left, stumbled and then righted himself to throw against his body and to wide receiver James Jones for the game’s first score.
New Orleans retaliated with a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Brees tied Johnny Unitas’ consecutive-games touchdown-pass record (47) with a 20-yard scoring strike to Colston. It appeared Colston pushed off in the end zone to make the grab, but a penalty flag was not thrown on the play.
Tied at 7-7, Rodgers roared back with a ball-control, 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. The big play in the drive was a 20-yard completion to tight end Jermichael Finley, who broke a tackle after making the catch. Following completions of eight yards to Finley and nine yards to Greg Jennings, Rodgers found Jennings in the middle of the end zone for nine yards and a touchdown.
The Packers’ third scoring drive, 92 yards, was kick-started by a John Kuhn fake-punt run on fourth down deep in Packers territory, a gutsy call by Coach Mike McCarthy. Rodgers and the offense came back onto the field and moved steadily down the field. On third and five from the Saints 14, Rodgers flipped a touchdown pass to Jones, who made an easy grab over the middle with 4:50 to play in the half.
The Saints did a good job of cutting the deficit and expiring what was left of the first-half clock, by executing a 65-yard touchdown drive. Brees used all of his weapons and the field in the drive. From the six-yard line, Brees threw in the left flat to Sproles, who covered the remaining few yards to cut the Packers’ lead to 21-14.
Rodgers’ offensive line provided ample time for him to throw. On the touchdown pass to Jennings, Rodgers arm-pumped several times and looked right and left before finding Jennings open.
The Packers evened their record at 2-2. The Saints dropped to 0-4.
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