Garrett Hartley's miss

The Green Bay Packers managed to eke it out against the New Orleans Saints and the referees this time around, saving Lambeau Field from implosion.

12:45, 1st quarter — Ugly start for the Packers offense, which gets an opening possession for a rare time only to go three and out.

The Packers run Cedric Benson on 1st and 2nd down, getting 2 yards and then 5 around left end. On 3rd and 3, Aaron Rodgers takes too long to come off Greg Jennings running the seam route. James Jones initially hooks a couple yards beyond the first down, but as he’s supposed to do, he then works his way back towards Rodgers. By the time Rodgers throws him the ball he’s on the wrong side of the first down. Jordy Nelson is in the middle of the field and open. Punt.

11:00, 1st quarter — Amazingly, the Packers actually start the game in their base defense, but showing a correction from previous weeks. Instead of relying on their OLBs to cover the slot, they let the OLBs go to the flat while the outside corners collapse on the slot. The Saints go three and out themselves when they try an outside run on 3rd and 1 and mistakenly think they can run away from Clay Matthews without blocking him. Wrong. Matthews makes the tackle in the backfield with help from A.J. Hawk.

The Packers D has forced a three and out to start all four games this season.

9:00, 1st quarter — The offense goes 62 yards in seven plays to give the Packers a 7-0 lead, the first points of the year in the 1st quarter of a game.

The Packers never faced 3rd down. The drive was keyed by two passes to Jordy Nelson, who is singled up against Saints’ rookie corner Patrick Robinson, and a 12-yard pass to Jermichael Finley where he actually stiff-armed a tackler.

The 12-yard TD to Jones is part debacle and part magic by Rodgers. The Saints rushed five, but got nowhere near Rodgers. If Rodgers waits another half second in the pocket, facing no pressure, he’ll see a blown coverage by the Saints — two guys take Jones and leave Finley wide open in the middle of the end zone. Instead, Rodgers bolts the pocket to his left, narrowly slips a sack, and then throws a nice touch pass that was probably meant for Finley. Props to Jones, who alertly circles both guys covering him and steals the ball from Finley for the TD.

Mason Crosby kicks one of the uglier PATs you’ll ever see. The first of three holding penalties on kicks is called, forcing Crosby to kick an even uglier PAT. Big point there, as it would turn out.

4:50, 1st quarter — The Saints answer with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ends with a controversial 20-yard TD catch by Marques Colston.

The Saints only face 3rd down once, a 3rd and 1 that is easily picked up with a dump to Jimmy Graham. The Packers alternate between their nickel and dime defense. The dime includes four safeties on the field at once (Charles Woodson, Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings), which is not reassuring, considering this isn’t exactly the Packers’ strongest unit.

It shows. With plenty of time to throw, Drew Brees has no problem finding large gaps in the zones left by the safeties. In fact, no one on this drive seems interested in covering Graham at all.

Charles Woodson blitzed off the slot on the TD catch, leaving Morgan Burnett to pick up Colston. A trait he shares with Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers, Brees has the tendency to throw the ball to his big receivers even if they’re covered, basically throwing it up for grabs. Burnett is in perfect position until Colston shoves him to the ground. That makes it easier for Colston to spin and catch the ball, which he just barely does.

Two regular referees are within 10 feet of the play, but no flag is thrown. Offensive pass interference is the most inconsistently called penalty in football, but this seems especially egregious since the last “TD” scored against the Packers. Obviously, that means nothing to this crew, as we’re going to find out emphatically. It DOES mean a hell of a lot to the attending fans who do everything they can to remind the refs of how they got their deal done.

3:30, 1st quarter — The Packers have an answer of their own, going 80 yards in 11 plays to take a 14-7 lead.

After Rodgers converts an initial 3rd and 6 by scrambling to his right, the offense gets into a good rhythm, mostly through short passes to Finley and Randall Cobb. Finley gets 20 yards on one dump over the middle after he breaks two tackles. Wow, where did this guy come from?

The Packers score from the 9 on a dart over the middle by Rodgers that is snagged by Greg Jennings between three defenders. This time, Rodgers shows excellent patience by staying in the pocket for an extended period of time, and I have no idea what he saw before he whipped the ball over the middle. Somehow, Jennings ended up with it. This would be the last play of the day for Greg Jennings.

11:00, 2nd quarter — The Packers get an important stop after the Saints drive to the Green Bay 40. The Packers play their special dime with seven defensive backs — which is the regular nickel plus Casey Hayward and M.D. Jennings — nearly this entire drive.

It works this time, with the Saints finding it tougher sledding, except for a 17-yard catch by Colston where Tramon Williams and Woodson appear confused.

The Saints fail to convert a 3rd and 9 when Hayward jumps in front of Colston and almost gets a pick six.

4:50, 2nd quarter — The Packers take advantage of a fake punt to go 92 yards in 13 plays and take a 21-7 lead.

On the third play of the drive, Mike McCarthy foolishly used a challenge on an apparent 1st down catch by Nelson that was called incomplete. This is right call, stupid rule. Nelson actually has the catch and only loses the ball when he stretches the ball out for the 1st down. However, per the letter of the rule, Nelson had to control the ball all the way to the ground. Easy call for the refs.

The fake punt is a gutsy call by McCarthy and an idiotic one for the Saints’ special teams, who are apparently oblivious to the fact that it’s only 4th and inches. The Saints have no one guarding against the dive and John Kuhn easily gets the first down.

The drive was keyed by Benson runs, dumps to Benson and short passes to Cobb. The Packers also picked up 15 yards on a personal foul facemask on Malcolm Jenkins, a move Jenkins would repeat later against Rodgers.

The Packers have lined up Cobb on the same side as Jones and then dumped him the ball while Jones blocked several times already. Nice little play. The Packers also run another shovel pass on this drive, this time to Benson. Surprisingly, the shovel pass has worked well for the Packers so far this year.

The TD came on a simple 9-yard slant to James Jones, who beat Jabari Greer at the line. Frankly, he made it look easy when Greer stumbled. Nice half for Jones.

0:34, 2nd quarter — The Saints get a key score before half to keep this a close game.

This is another 80-yard drive in 14 plays, ending with a 6-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles. The Packers are playing a lot of zone with their dime and they aren’t particularly good at it. The main issue is that they don’t do a very good job passing a receiver off from one defender to another as they’re running through the zone.

The Packers aren’t getting any pressure without blitzing and when they do blitz, Brees is getting rid of the ball quickly. The biggest play of the drive is a screen play to Sproles, where they catch the Packers blitzing D.J. Smith. That leaves Burnett alone to defend the screen and when Sproles gets by him, he goes for 20 yards.

9:45, 3rd quarter — The Saints take the 2nd-half kickoff and drive to the 1 for a short field goal.

The long drive could have been a three and out when Graham apparently dropped a 3rd down pass over the middle. When the refs ruled it a catch, McCarthy had no choice here but to challenge. Amazingly, and to the general dismay of all, head referee Jeff Triplett refuses to overturn the call after emerging from the replay hood.

In a heated exchange with McCarthy, Triplett can be seen saying that it doesn’t matter if the ball hits the ground if there is control. So, apparently, control to Triplett includes the ball sliding down your hip until it hits the ground.

Worst of all, the Packers are now left without challenges for the remainder.

On the very next play, the Packers zone lost track of Colston and he gets 26 yards.

Once the Saints got in the red zone, they had a harder time of it, partially because of some great play by Morgan Burnett. The Saints actually got two shots at a TD thanks to two defensive penalties on their first field goal attempt: 13 men on the field and a personal foul on B.J. Raji where he clearly accosted the prone Saints long snapper. I don’t know, maybe he told Raji his commercials suck.

The Packers defense does a great job of holding the Saints at the 2. On 1st down, Brees dumped to Pierre Thomas in the flat where he was immediately leveled by Burnett. On 2nd, Brees tried the fade to Colston with Williams covering — incomplete. On 3rd and goal, Brees tried the quick in to Graham, but Williams jumped in front and knocked it away.

5:20, 3rd quarter — The game turns at this mark. The Packers offense is still making easy work of the Saints defense and drives to the 2-yard line. Jordy Nelson is still giving Robinson fit, and Jones makes a great catch on a back-shoulder fade for 20 yards.

On 3rd-and-3 from the 4, however, Rodgers got literally clawed in the face by Jenkins. The obvious foul gives the Packers a 1st down at the 2, but Rodgers needs some time to recover.

No big deal. Graham Harrell will just hand off. OOOPS!! Harrell gets tripped by Josh Sitton, tries to hand off while falling, never gets the ball to Benson and the asshat himself, Jenkins, recovers the fumble.

I propose that if a player sits out due to an illegal hit, then the player who delivered the illegal hit should also sit out the same number of plays.

Also, let me just take a second to express my annoyance at seeing Will Smith on the field, instead of serving his suspension. Let me just ask one incredibly glaring question here: if the players are supposedly innocent (yeah, right), then why is Sean Payton SUSPENDED FOR THE YEAR???!!

Rodgers would defend Harrell afterwards by saying that play could happen to anyone. Bad luck, poor awareness (suggested by Troy Aikman), I don’t know. But let me just suggest this — if you are tripped and falling while trying to hand off, DON’T HAND OFF!!

Okay, glad we got that covered.

4:00, 3rd quarter — The Saints hit on an 80-yard TD pass just four plays later to take a 24-21 lead.

The Packers are in their base defense for a rare play here and Woodson crashes the line of scrimmage while Burnett covers Graham, leaving no one playing deep center. This is an especially unfortunate time for Sam Shields to allow Joe Morgan to run right past him. Shields doubles down on his error by being unable to tackle Morgan at the 15 when he chases him down.

2:40, 3rd quarter — Rodgers throws his third INT of the season after the Packers drive to near midfield.

The Packers offense is moving again, with consecutive 16-yard passes before the INT.

Sometimes you just have to give the defender credit. Rodgers could have thrown the ball a little further, but this is a very nice play by Robinson, who looked beat at the time the ball was released.

13:10, 4th quarter — The Saints turn the INT into three points with a 27-yard field goal.

During the drive, the Packers play good defense on 1st and 2nd down; unfortunately, they also give up a 3rd-and-17 and a 3rd-and-14 to the same play. Both times the Packers only rushed three. Colston ran to the middle of the field from the slot and Brees didn’t even look at anyone else.

The Packers have played good defense in the red zone this half, however. They force another field goal when Shields bats the ball away from Devery Henderson on 3rd and 4.

10:25, 4th quarter — The Packers defense gets a game-saving three and out, including a 2nd down pass that was nearly intercepted by three different Packers. When Burnett takes the ball right out of Williams’ hands, who doesn’t think the Packers are cursed?

On 3rd and 10, the Packers send Woodson and Matthews on the same side, and Matthews is a step from sacking Brees at the goal line when Brees delivers it early to Graham. Hayward is sealing Graham off from the middle of the field and the ball falls harmlessly incomplete behind both of them.

Very nice game from Hayward, who also tackled well against the run. I’m not sure what the Packers are going to do when Davon House comes back. Can any of these guys play safety?

7:00, 4th quarter — The Packers’ drive for the TD to take a 28-27 lead.

Great play calling on this short drive, including a quick-toss sweep to Benson that got 9 and a shovel pass to Cobb that got 17. The Packers never faced a 3rd down and never gained less than 6 yards on any play. On 2nd down from the 11, Rodgers stuck it into Nelson on the slant, who bulled into the end zone for the go-ahead score.

Of course, the very next play would be the most controversial play in the game. On the kick return, after the tackle, the Packers would immediately signal that a fumble occurred. A wild melee ensued, proving that at least some Saints agreed. The nearest referee never made a signal either way — either that it was down or that it was a fumble. Sound familiar? After a brief huddle, the refs would conclude their ruling was down by contact.

Unfortunately, the replay would show that it wasn’t even close. Sproles is still upright on both feet when the ball pops loose. Thanks to the prior screwjob on Graham’s “catch” and the poor decision to challenge on Nelson’s “catch,” the Packers can’t challenge.

Of course, if the referees would have just taken the most expedient route and ruled it a fumble, then it would have been automatically reviewed upstairs, since all turnovers are now reviewed. But no. Instead, the refs just decide to blow it, leave the Packers with no recourse and the Packers fans can’t believe this is happening again.

2:58, 4th quarter — The Saints manage to work their way into field goal range with short passes. The Packers are staying aggressive and doing what they can to get to Brees, but he is throwing the ball quickly and accurately.

After Garrett Hartley made the initial field goal, the refs called their third holding penalty on a kick in the game. Make-up call or just consistent with previous calls? Who knows. Regardless, Hartley pulled his second attempt to the left and the Packers still had the lead with 2:50 left.

There is colossal relief after the Packers offense manages to get a 1st down to end the game without their defense having to go back on the field.

The Packers lined up big and ran the ball on 1st and 2nd down to take the clock down to the two-minute warning. Two fairly decent runs gave the Packers some options on 3rd and 3.

Rodgers opted for a low percentage shot to Jones with Greer draped all over him. Amazingly, not only did Jones make the catch, but the refs jumped to the Packers’ rescue with a flag that would have converted the 1st anyway. From there it was three knees from the victory formation until game over.

The Packers got what they needed and averted another referee-affected disaster by beating the Saints. Did the offense really find itself, the defense revert to old ways, or were both simply a result of playing the Saints? Hard to say.

The 2012 offense appears more versatile, if less explosive, than its 2011 counterpart with what Benson and Cobb bring to the table. I believe Aaron Rodgers regained some of his old form during the 2nd half against Seattle, and we saw more of that this week.

The defense lacks experience, especially on the back end and I believe the coverage mistakes aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. However, there is no question that there is more talent back there than what was available last season.

After a tough first month, the Packers embark on a three-game road trip, which includes a visit to perhaps the new best team in the NFL, the Houston Texans. The Packers need to go at least 2-1 to stay on track for the season.

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