Packers keep Saints winless

Green Bay bounces back after MNF controversy
Packers keep Saints winless

The Green Bay Packers overcame a week filled with distraction to earn a critical victory.

The New Orleans Saints, battling distractions since March, are in big, big trouble.

Aaron Rodgers threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with seven minutes to go, and the Packers survived for a 28-27 victory on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

In what was supposed to be a marquee game pitting two of the NFL’s powerhouse franchises, it turned into a shootout between two teams in dire need of a win in the rugged NFC.

The Saints, rocked by the bounty scandal, entered the game as the conference’s only winless team. The Packers, coming off a short week after Monday’s stunning and controversial loss at Seattle, entered the game 1-2.

The referees blew another call against the Saints, but the Packers survived this one. After taking a 28-27 lead on Rodgers’ 11-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson, Darren Sproles fumbled the ensuing kickoff on a big hit by Dezman Moses. The play had been blown dead, however, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy was out of challenges.

The Saints drove to the Packers’ 25-yard line, but the possession stalled. Garrett Hartley put the Saints ahead with a 43-yard field goal, but the play was nullified by a holding penalty. That set up a 53-yard attempt, but Green Bay’s Mike Daniels was flagged for offside. That made it a 48-yard attempt, which Hartley missed to the left with 2:49 remaining.

“When the ball came off, I knew I hit it well,” Hartley said. “You want to be in that position. I was walking out there with all the confidence in the world and, unfortunately, it didn’t work out this time.”

Green Bay needed a first down to run out the clock, which it got. On third-and-3, Rodgers found James Jones for an 8-yard completion — Jabari Greer was flagged for defensive pass interference — and Rodgers and the Packers prevailed and the Saints lost their fourth consecutive game by no more than eight points.

“Disappointment, but I won’t let them get disappointed,” Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said. “I’ll let them get hurt. It’s going to hurt when you lose a game like this, but we are too close. Two games in a row now that we are too close to not winning these games. We had an opportunity to win the game at the end and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Rodgers finished 31 of 41 for 319 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. It was his first fourth-quarter comeback victory since 2009.

“The last play, feel great about the opportunity to win it there with a completion,” Rodgers said. “We had a good play called. They brought a little pressure and played man coverage. Liked the matchup with James and he made an incredible catch. Big play for us.”

That was enough to outduel Drew Brees, who lit up the Packers with 35-of-54 passing for 446 yards and three touchdowns. Making one big play after another, Brees and company converted 9 of 16 third downs to turn a 21-7 deficit into a 24-21 lead on an 80-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Morgan with 3:49 to go in the third quarter.

The Packers and Saints traded first-possession punts — an unlikely start to a first-half shootout.

The Packers led 21-14 at halftime, with Rodgers (17 of 22, 165 yards, three touchdowns) and Brees (20 of 24, 195 yards, two touchdowns) combining for 360 yards and five touchdowns.

The play of the half, however, was a 5-yard run by John Kuhn. Green Bay led 14-7 midway through the second quarter and lined up to punt on fourth-and-1 from the 17. With the Saints double-teaming the gunners, that left just six defenders in the box. Kuhn took the direct snap and plowed ahead for the first down.

The Packers didn’t face another third down for the rest of the possession until Rodgers and Jones hooked up for their second touchdown of the game, a 12-yarder that made it 21-7 with 4:50 left in the half.

The Packers are 2-2 with a three-game road trip starting Sunday at Indianapolis.

Could a victory over New Orleans be a building block?

“That’s a good point, but we don’t think that way,” McCarthy said. “This game is clearly the end of our first quarter. We talked about it as a football team. It was important to be 2-2. We’d like to be better. But you are what your record says you are. We’ll find out a lot about our team here in the next three weeks.”

Notes: With the first of his touchdown passes, Brees tied Johnny Unitas’ 52-year-old record with at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games. Unitas threw 102 touchdown passes during his streak; Brees has thrown 114. … Here’s another Brees-Unitas link: With 291 career touchdown passes, Brees moved past Unitas and is tied with Warren Moon for seventh in NFL history. … Brees’ yardage output was the second best in franchise history. … Rodgers has thrown at least one touchdown pass in a league-high 32 consecutive home games. … The Packers hadn’t scored in the first quarter until the first of Rodgers’ touchdown passes to Jones. … Greg Jennings, who sustained a groin injury at the end of Week 1 and missed Week 2, aggravated the injury on a second-quarter touchdown and missed the rest of the game.