Monday, October 01, 2012

Packers beat Saints -- and refs -- in a close one

On a beautiful early Fall day on the as-yet-un-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers notched a victory in what was for them -- and their opponent, the New Orleans Saints -- a must win game. The Packers needed a victory to avoid falling two games behind in the NFC North, while the Saints were just trying to get off the schnide and avoid going 0-4. The Pack also needed to respond to the heartbreaking loss in Seattle where victory was taken away by inept replacement refs. They did. But, boy, it was oh so close to being another heartbreaker. And, sad to say, the regular officials left much to be desired in their first action of the season, as well, and almost cost the Packers this game (more on that later). But the Pack prevailed, 28-27. Whew!

The Packers and Saints combined for 765 yards and seven touchdowns. Yowza! And the Packers finally scored in the first quarter, the last team in the NFL to do so. The oddsmakers certainly had the over-under correct in this game, set at 53-1/2 points. But the Packers didn't come close to beating the point spread for this game: 7-1/2 points.

There were so many key moments to this game. Including, again, blown calls by the refs which could have led to a Saints win. In particular, as the article by Bob McGinn in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says, the Saints "got an enormous break when the officiating crew led by referee Jeff Triplette missed the fact Darren Sproles fumbled a kickoff that was recovered by Green Bay's Dezman Moses at the New Orleans 30 with 7 minutes left." Because Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy had already made two challenges and lost them both, he could not challenge this obviously blown call. At that moment, Packer fans across the universe were collectively saying "Oh no!" -- because this is a family-friendly site, I will refrain from posting what most fans probably said.

Another key play occurred the one play QB Aaron Rodgers was off the field on offense. After scrambling inside the red zone and getting poked in the eye during a facemask grab, Rodgers came out of the game and backup Graham Harrell came in. The ball, following the facemask penalty, was at the one-yard line with first and goal. A running play was called, but Harrell apparently didn't get out from behind center fast enough, was stepped on by one of his offensive lineman which caused him to fall and miss his handoff to Cedric Benson. The ball was recovered by the Saints. Four plays later, Saints QB Drew Brees hit a receiver for 80-yards and a touchdown to put the Saints ahead...a 14-point swing in the game.

But, as McGinn's article points out, "The winning touchdown (for the Packers) came midway in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard slant in which Jordy Nelson beat cornerback Jabari Greer and then ran right over muscular nickel back Corey White, who was waiting for him at the 2."

Still, the Saints had a chance to up by 3 points with less than three minutes remaining in the game. A 43-yard field goal was good but negated by a holding penalty. That made the attempt 53 yards...but an offsides penalty against the Packers got five of those penalty yards back. The 48-yard field goal attempt went just wide to the left, keeping the Packers ahead 28-27.

With just under two minutes left in the game the Packers faced third-and-three after two strong runs by Benson who had a very good day, averaging 4.7 yards in 18 carries. But rather than hand the ball to Benson for a third straight time, coach McCarthy did what he will usually do in this situation: keep the ball in Aaron Rodgers' hands. Again, from Bob McGinn: "On the far right, James Jones was confronted by Greer in the bump zone. After looking first toward Finley, Rodgers came back to Jones, who had flashed him a clean release. Greer was all over Jones and with his back toward Rodgers. Jones speared the ball with his right hand almost off Greer's hip for a remarkable 8-yard reception as penalty flags flew for defensive pass interference." First down Packers. No time outs remaining for New Orleans. Game. Set. Dagger! (By the way, did I mention that James Jones probably had one of his best performance as a Packer?)

This is a game where we finally saw the Packers offense start to resemble what we saw last season. The defense, unfortunately, also started to look like the sieve that it was last season. Will be interesting to see which way things go in the long run.

Prior to the start of the season, I had predicted the Packers would be 3-1 coming out of this first quarter of the season. In fact, they were...they won that game in Seattle, just didn't have the victory awarded to them as radio voice of the Packers, Wayne Larrivee, pointed out. But the record shows 2-2 as the Packers now embark upon three consecutive road games. First up is the Colts. The Packers have something to build off of coming out of this game, and they should take it with them to Indianapolis for another win.

The first four games of this NFL season have seen many unexpected twists and turns. But the road to the playoffs and Super Bowl begins to straighten out as we get into the second quarter of the season.

Go Pack Go!!!