By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the NFL, the “bend-but-don’t-break” philosophy is a risky way of doing business.
Saints, Brees shake off sluggish start as New Orleans scores 26-17 victory
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Sooner or later something’s got to give.
Last week it was Aaron Rodgers’ right collarbone. This week it was the Green Bay defense.
The Packers’ 26-17 loss to New Orleans on an overcast Sunday at Lambeau Field was particularly discouraging.
When your rookie running back dashes 46 yards for an opening-drive touchdown run, and your defense snags not one but two errant passes from a future Hall of Fame quarterback that represents a tremendous chance to win.
When opportunity knocked, the Packers didn’t answer.
Brett Hundley and the offense couldn’t build on a fourth quarter lead, and the defense couldn’t protect it.
Life used to be so much simpler.
If Green Bay needed a late rally Rodgers and friends were apt to pull them out of the fire. Rodgers would run for a first down and connect with Jordy Nelson for another. Then, he’d launch a bullet to Davante Adams for the game-winner.
Everybody went home happy.
Against the Saints, the back-up quarterback and the defense were asked to do the heavy lifting. What they got was a hernia. While not entirely debilitating it was incredibly aggravating.
The Packers didn’t fail miserably, to be sure, but they failed nonetheless.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy accepted the blame.
Apparently having “the best Wednesday practice” of the season doesn’t always translate into a win on Sunday.
McCarthy’s willingness to take the heat was an attempt to support Hundley by saying, “If I would’ve done my job, our quarterback could’ve done his.”
I couldn’t agree more.
McCarthy could’ve stuck with Aaron Jones and the running game, or he could’ve taken more deep shots, or he could’ve tried some shenanigans such as a trick play to jump-start his team.
He did none of those things.
The game’s defining drive occurred late in the third quarter and spilled into the fourth.
The Packers drove the football to the New Orleans’ 28-yard line. They had done so by running the football effectively, something they hadn’t done through the air.
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Sooner or later something’s got to give.
On first down, Hundley directed a pass in Ty Montgomery’s direction, but couldn’t connect. On second down, Montgomery took a handoff, lowered his helmet and gained zero yards.
On third down, Hundley attempted a pass to Adams that fell harmlessly incomplete.
Mason Crosby trotted onto the field and connected for a 46-yard field goal to put the Packers up 17-16 with 14:50 to play.
After that it was all New Orleans.
Drew Brees led the Saints to 10 points to close out the game.
Brees hit on 27 of 38 passes for 331 yards and the 500th touchdown pass of his illustrious career. His 84.4 quarterback rating was approximately double Hundley’s 39.9 mark.
The Packers managed to sack Brees once all day. They successfully defended just three of his 38 pass attempts, with two of those being interceptions. Other than the early turnovers they forced, the Packers’ defense offered minimal resistance.
Blake Martinez flew around for 16 tackles and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix added eight. It was likely good enough to KO a fair amount of NFL offenses, but not nearly good enough against the Saints.
The discouraging part is that it could’ve been.
Jones rushed 17 times for 131 yards and the touchdown. Montgomery managed just six yards in four carries.
So why was Montgomery on the field during the key drive?
Hundley completed just 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards and an interception. He was pressured constantly but sacked just once. He failed to push the ball downfield on numerous plays.
So why was Hundley passing on two of three downs with a chance to put the Packers up 21-16?
The Packers’ vaunted receiving corps combined for six catches and 54 yards on 15 targets. That’s not good enough to win in college, let alone the NFL.
Montgomery caught one pass for 9 yards on just two targets. Why wouldn’t McCarthy throw it more to Montgomery, especially when that’s the former receiver’s best skill?
Meantime, the Saints’ Ted Ginn Jr. hauled in seven receptions for 141 yards on seven targets. Running back Alvin Kamara caught five for 50 while his backfield mate, Mark Ingram, punished the Packers’ defense throughout.
Now, the Packers (4-3) have a bye week to figure out how best to proceed.
They still have everything in front of them: A possible NFC North title or perhaps a wild-card berth if they can figure it out soon enough to stay competitive in a wide-open NFC.
If they can’t I’ll make this prediction: It’s going to be an especially long, cold winter in Green Bay.