The New Orleans Saints finally saw an offense they recognized.
The result was the same, though – another loss for a team whose tumultuous offseason has spilled over into a winless start.
This time Garrett Hartley missed a field goal in a wild ending at Lambeau Field, where the Saints (0-4) blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Green Bay Packers 28-27 on Sunday.
”It’s going to hurt when you lose a game like this,” Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said. ”But I will not let them get down. We are too close.”
The loss came despite a monster game from Drew Brees, who threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns as the Saints’ offense finally appeared to be performing up to its usual standards.
”Yeah, it’s disappointing,” Brees said. ”It stinks. But despite where we’re at right now, I think this team’s going to do something.”
Brees threw a touchdown for the 47th regular-season game in a row, tying an NFL record set by Johnny Unitas.
”Obviously, I’d like to be talking about it after a win,” Brees said of the record. ”But certainly it’s significant to even be in the same realm as a guy like Johnny Unitas.”
Marques Colston had nine catches for 153 yards and a touchdown.
”This was the first time all year that Drew and I have had it going like that,” Colston said. ”It is a good step in the right direction.”
Aaron Rodgers threw a go-ahead touchdown to Jordy Nelson in the fourth quarter.
Soon after, Packers fans were howling about what appeared to be yet another bad call – this time by the regular officials, not the replacements.
Darren Sproles appeared to fumble the ensuing kickoff but officials ruled that he was down by contact. Replays showed that the ball clearly came out but the Packers were out of replay challenges, leaving Packers fans screaming at the officials for the second week in a row.
Brees then led the Saints into field goal range, and Hartley hit a 43-yard attempt – but the Saints were called for holding, forcing Hartley to line up a 53-yarder. The Packers then were called for encroachment, leaving Hartley to try a 48-yarder and he missed it wide left.
”You just have to rewind and regroup and your thought process, whatever that might be,” Hartley said. ”Go out there and execute. This time, that didn’t happen.”
It was a sigh of relief for the Packers, who spent most of the week in the middle of a nationwide firestorm after a last-second decision by replacement officials cost them a game at Seattle on Monday night. The play was a burden for the Packers to bear, but likely played a significant role in the NFL agreeing to a deal with its regular officials during the week.
Referee Jeff Triplette struck a triumphant tone during the pregame coin toss Sunday, announcing that ”it’s great to be back, gentlemen!” A handful of Packers fans came to the game dressed as officials, and some brought signs showing support for the regular refs.
The honeymoon didn’t last long, though. Fans howled for an offensive pass interference call after Brees threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston late in the first quarter, but no flag was forthcoming. The boos intensified as a replay was shown on the stadium video boards.
Rodgers threw for 319 yards with four touchdowns and an interception for the Packers (2-2).
With the Packers leading 21-14 in the third quarter, fans – and McCarthy – were on the officials again when McCarthy challenged a catch by Jimmy Graham but it wasn’t overturned.
The Packers had too many men on the field for a Saints field attempt later in the drive, giving New Orleans first-and-goal on the 1. But the defense held, forcing a 20-yard field goal by Hartley to cut the lead to 21-17 with 9:41 left in the third quarter.
Rodgers marched the Packers down the field again but needed attention from the team’s training staff after a face mask by New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins. Rodgers came out of the game for one play and backup quarterback Graham Harrell came in – then tripped and fumbled as he tried to hand it off, allowing the Saints to get the ball back in the middle of a scrum.
Brees then found Joseph Morgan wide open behind the defense, and Morgan shed tackling attempts from the Packers’ Sam Shields and Tramon Williams on his way to an 80-yard touchdown and a 24-21 lead with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
Things then got even worse for the Packers, as Rodgers then threw an interception to Patrick Robinson on a deep throw intended for Nelson. Brees then completed a pair of third-and-long situations, and the Saints drove for a 27-yard field goal by Hartley to take a 27-21 lead with 13:04 remaining.
With the Packers trailing by 6, Rodgers threw an 11-yard strike to Nelson as the Saints’ Corey White tried to wrap his arms around the ball at the same time as Nelson – briefly re-creating a scene eerily similar to the controversial game-ender in Seattle on Monday. This time, though, Nelson clearly came away with the ball and spiked it emphatically.
NOTES: Packers S M.D. Jennings, who played a key role in the disputed play at Seattle, left the game with a shoulder injury. … Packers WR Greg Jennings caught a touchdown in the second quarter but later came out of the game. Jennings has been struggling to stay healthy with a groin injury.