Saints 44, Packers 23: 2-minute drill

Saints 44, Packers 23: 2-minute drill

Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 44-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where Green Bay’s four-game winning streak came to a screeching halt:

Thumbs up:  The Packers predicted during the week that the Saints would focus on taking away Jordy Nelson, who came in with 47 receptions for 712 yards on the season. And that’s exactly what happened, as New Orleans matched cornerback Keenan Lewis on him with safety help most of the night.

The good news for the Packers was that while the Saints succeeded – Nelson had just three receptions for 25 yards, although quarterback Aaron Rodgers would argue that he was interfered with on an incompletion in the end zone that might have resulted in a touchdown and a 20-13 second-quarter lead – they did get production from their other receivers without him being a factor.

Although 70 of Randall Cobb’s team-high 126 receiving yards came on his 70-yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive, he did have four other receptions for 56 yards. Rookie Davante Adams, who had one of Rodgers’ two interceptions go off his hands, also had seven receptions for 75 yards. And tight end Richard Rodgers, who has been largely a non-factor in the passing game this season, caught four passes for 58 yards, including a 22-yarder.

“They blitzed I think twice all night — once or twice. Other than that, it was coverage,” Rodgers explained. “They mixed a couple one-high [safety looks] in there but it was a lot of two-high match coverage, trying to help on Jordy. We tried to move Jordy around a little bit and Randall had a lot of opportunities, Davante had a lot of opportunities, Richard in the second half had some opportunities. It was just execution. They did a good job of sticking to their plan and being stout in the red zone and they forced a couple turnovers.”

The Packers’ defensive execution against the Saints’ offense, meanwhile, wasn’t good enough, either. New Orleans rolled up 495 yards of offense, including running back Mark Ingram’s career-best 172-yard effort on the ground. Although the unit allowed the Saints only two touchdowns on their six red-zone opportunities and had a big fourth-down stop to start the second half, it wasn’t enough.

“It was 0-0 at the half, and we let it get away from us. We’ve got to finish,” defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. “We came out, we were playing some decent football in the first half. We just have to finish better. We need to rise to the occasion from beginning to end. That’s just how it is.”

Thumbs down:  Mike McCarthy made some bold decisions during the course of Sunday night’s game, from inserting defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers into the game on offense, to trying a surprise onside kick after Peppers’ drop at the goal line forced the Packers to settle for a field goal, to going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 40-yard line with 3 minutes 32 seconds left in the third quarter and his team trailing 23-16.

While all three decisions might have been hailed as courageous or smart had they worked, there was really only one aspect that was most deserving of second-guessing: The decision by McCarthy to call a run to the right on the fourth-down play, behind second-year guard Lane Taylor, who was replacing an injured T.J. Lang (ankle) at right guard.

Asked what happened on the play, McCarthy’s answer said it all.

“We had clean angles, [but it was] poorly blocked there to the front side,” he said, referring to Taylor. “They obviously stopped us.”

Taylor took responsibility for the failure and said the challenging environment was no excuse.

“You’ve just got to handle it. Wherever you go, there’s going to be a hostile environment, so you’ve just got to be ready,” Taylor said. “I knew I’d been one ankle or one whatever away, so I was prepared.”

Player of the game:  During training camp, Eddie Lacy joked about calling himself “Randy Moss” because of his abilities catching the football. On Sunday night, he showed off his skills.

Lacy, who came into the game having caught only 13 passes for 86 yards on the season, caught eight passes for 123 yards, including a 67-yard gain on a screen pass, as the Packers used the short passing game more extensively than they have all year.

“I was just another option for the quarterback,” said Lacy, who also ran 13 times for 59 yards (4.5-yard average), giving him 182 total yards from scrimmage on the night. “I was in the right place and I just made the most of every opportunity.”

Rodgers said the Saints’ aggressive defense, which featured defensive linemen who pushed upfield but linebackers and defensive backs who rarely blitzed during the game, made the screen a necessary option.

“That was their defense dictating a lot of that,” Rodgers explained. “They played a lot of match coverage, rushing four. Their four-man rush was really getting up the field, so we had opportunities to run some screens. Mike dialed them up good and the line got out in front and Eddie had a big day [with the] catch-and-run. He had a big day for us.

“We’ve been working on that since training camp, getting him more involved in the passing game, and not a ton of rushes tonight for him but I know he made a big impact in the passing game.”

Play of the day:  While Rodgers was never the same after he injured his left hamstring on a scramble three plays earlier, the game turned on his interception that ricocheted off tight end Andrew Quarless’ hands and into those of linebacker David Hawthorne.

The Green Bay defense had just delivered its first stop of the night, a fourth-and-2 stuffing at the Packers’ 43-yard line on the Saints’ first series of the second half with the game tied at 16-16. Rodgers, in turn, hit Cobb for a 20-yard gain, and Lacy followed with runs of 19 7 yards. Rodgers then scrambled for a 7-yard gain, setting up first-and-goal at the New Orleans 6.

After Lacy gained 1 yard on first down, Rodgers was pressured and threw the ball out of the back of the end zone on second down. On third down, Quarless, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass at Miami on Oct. 12, lined up to Rodgers left and was open at the goal line on a quick slant. But the ball hit him in the hands – cornerback Corey White was credited with a pass breakup on the play, so perhaps Quarless shouldn’t be charged with a drop – and to Hawthorne. Four plays later, quarterback Drew Brees threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

“It’s a big swing. That’s a 14-point swing,” McCarthy said. “If he catches the ball, we score seven, and they obviously converted that turnover into a touchdown. So, obviously, it was a big play.”

Asked about the play, Rodgers said, “We had a one-on-one there with Q, liked the matchup. I’d have to watch the film to see what happened, but I feel good about the throw. [White] might have got a hand in there and tipped it to the trail guy.”

Inside slant:  A year ago, the Packers were only scoring touchdowns in the red zone half the time. They finished 26th in red-zone offense, with touchdowns on only 50.8 percent of their opportunities.

For a team that had long been one of the NFL’s best at coming away with touchdowns when inside the opposing 20-yard line, it was especially disappointing. It became a point of emphasis during the offseason and in training camp, and it was paying off: The Packers came into the game having scored 19 touchdowns in 27 red-zone possessions, a TD conversion rate of 70.4.

But on Sunday night, with four chances inside the Saints’ 20-yard line, the Packers came out with only one touchdown. Their three failures were a pair of field goals, including the one that came after Peppers’ drop, and the interception that caromed off Quarless’ hands.

“We had [two] field goals and a turnover in the red zone, a turnover on their side of the field — uncharacteristic of our team and myself,” Rodgers said. “Taking points off the board is tough. We had some chances there during the field-goal drives to actually get more points. The 12 men on the field, it looked like there may have been a chance to get the ball down there on the 1-yard line. Had a chance with Pep for a touchdown. Davante had a catch inside the 5 but got called for a penalty. Penalties and turnovers hurt us tonight and kicking field goals.”

Historically, McCarthy-led offenses have been good in the red zone. The Packers led the NFL in red-zone efficiency over the past five seasons with a 61.6 percent touchdown rate, and they scored touchdowns at a 68.1 percent clip in 2012, 65.2 percent in 2011 and 60.4 percent in 2010.

By the numbers:

Drew Brees’ five career games with the Saints against the Packers:

Sept. 17, 2006 – 26/41, 353 yards, two TDs, one INT, 96.9 rating.

Nov. 24, 2008 – 20/26, four TDs, no INTs, 157.5 rating

Sept. 8, 2011 – 32/49, 419 yards, three TDs, no INTs, 112.5 rating

Sept. 30, 2012 – 35/54, 446 yards, three TDs, no INTs, 109.0 rating.

Oct. 26, 2014 – 27/32, 311 yards, three TDs, no INTs, 138.4 rating.

Quote, unquote:  “I want to play well all the time. It’s my job to play well every time no matter if it’s here in Louisiana or far away somewhere like London. Wherever we’re playing at, it’s my job whenever I get a chance to make the most of every opportunity.” – Lacy, on whether it was important to him to play well in his hometown.

Injury report: The Packers lost Lang after the first series of the game to an ankle injury and he did not return. Rodgers played through his hamstring injury although he eventually was replaced by Matt Flynn for the Packers’ final two series.

Of the Packers’ inactives, cornerback Sam Shields (knee), safety Morgan Burnett (calf) and defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) were out with injuries. The other inactives were quarterback Scott Tolzien, linebacker Carl Bradford, center Garth Gerhart and wide receiver Jeff Janis.

Up next:  The Packers have the week off for their bye. Their next game is Nov. 9 at home against the Chicago Bears on  .

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at