Not even Jeff Triplette could deny the Green Bay Packers this time.
The Packers hung on for a wild 28-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints in a game where offenses ruled the day as both defenses gave up a combined for 895 yards and quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees both had stellar days and were able to move the chains almost at will.
The Packers go to 2-2 with the victory after their heartbreaking “loss” to the Seattle Seahawks last Monday evening and will move into second place in the NFC North behind the surprising 3-1 Minnesota Vikings should the Chicago Bears lose to the Dallas Cowboys tonight. The Saints fall to 0-4 as the team struggles to get going without head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the entire season for his part in the Saints’ bounty program.
The Packers offense finally appeared to find its rhythm against the hapless Saints defense that ranked dead last in the NFL entering the game, allowing an average of 477 yards per game. Rodgers picked apart the Saints secondary and Cedric Benson had another solid outing.
So who stood out and who stood down?
QB Aaron Rodgers
All eyes were on the reigning MVP this week after last week’s debacle in Seattle and Rodgers’ strong comments during his weekly radio show on ESPN 540. Many were expecting Rodgers to come back with a vengeance and he didn’t disappoint.
Aside from one interception, Rodgers was surgical against the Saints defense, going 31-41 for 319 yards and throwing four touchdown passes. His offensive line kept him upright and his knack for extending plays was once again on full display. He finally looked the part of NFL MVP, though again it was against the worst defense in the NFL.
WR James Jones
What kind of bizarre NFL season is this when Jones makes the clutch catch of the game?
Aside from making an incredible catch with a defender literally on top off him late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, Jones had his best game of the season. He caught two touchdown passes and finished with five catches for 65 yards.
With Greg Jennings aggravating his groin injury, Jones stepped up to the plate. Though Jordy Nelson led the team with eight catches for 93 yards, it was Jones who made the clutch catches.
Still want to trade him, Packer Nation?
RB Cedric Benson
It’s strange when your quarterback throws 41 passes and yet the offense still seemed balanced.
Yet that’s how the Packers appeared to be with Benson being fed the ball early and often. He finished with 18 carries for 84 yards and continues to creep ever closer to being the first Packer running back to go over 100 yards rushing in nearly two seasons. He didn’t find the end zone, but was solid nonetheless.
If Benson continues to perform like this and keeps growing into the offense, then opponents will have no choice but to respect the Packers rushing attack which will take pressure of Rodgers and perhaps make the passing game even more lethal.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers
The defense played fairly well on first and second down. Third down was a total disaster.
The Saints finished the game 9 of 17 on third down which is an efficiency of 53% and that doesn’t even tell the full story. Seemingly whenever the Packers would force a third and long situation, Brees would find a man wide open in the middle of the field. It was the typical “bend but don’t break” approach that Capers’ defenses in Green Bay are becoming known for.
This was a big test for the Packers defense to see if they had truly recovered from their poor performance in 2011. It was a test that they pretty much failed against an elite quarterback. They did a decent job containing Darren Sproles but Sam Shields was torched by tight end Jimmy Graham far too often and that allowed the Saints to climb back into the game after trailing 21-7.
Coach Mike McCarthy
McCarthy deserves credit for making another gutsy special teams call with the fake punt/direct snap to fullback John Kuhn deep in Packers territory and calling a decent game overall.
An unnecessary challenge in the first half nearly ended up costing the Packers the game, however. When McCarthy threw the red flag after Jordy Nelson clearly didn’t have full possession of the ball going to the ground, it was already a bad decision. The play clock on the following play was winding down, but it’s unclear why McCarthy used a challenge instead of just calling a timeout.
It turns out the Packers could have used that wasted challenge when the Saints appeared to fumble a kickoff return, yet the officials ruled Sproles down by contact when he clearly wasn’t. It was a decision McCarthy is fortunate that did not end up costing the Packers the game.
Referee Jeff Triplette
The honeymoon is officially over.
While the game definitely had more of a tempo to it unlike the games with the replacement officials, the Packers ironically got stuck with the referee many consider the worst of the regular officiating crews. After the aforementioned Nelson drop was upheld as incomplete, a nearly identical play by Graham that was upheld as a completed catch. Throw in the blatant push off by receiver Marques Colston on safety Morgan Burnett that was not called and resulted in a Saints touchdown, and you’d swear the replacement officials were still being used.
Before the game, the officials were greeted with a standing ovation and the game ended with an angry Lambeau crowd chanting “The Refs Still Suck!” Many who attended the game said it was the loudest they’ve ever heard Lambeau Field and some thought the stadium was going to erupt should the Packers have lost.
The officials unbelievably nearly cost the Packers a second straight game. Wonder what Mark Murphy would have had to say should that had happened?
Oh the fickle nature of the NFL and its fans.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke