Week 8: Green Bay @ New Orleans – “Not with a bang, but a whimper…”

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FIRSTLY: Mea culpa, Ut debeo, ut excusantum: After wishing the Saints the best of luck to roll the Pack prior to kickoff on Monday morning (AEDST), I’ll have my slice of humble pie warm please (although I did say that their record could easily have been 4-2 going into this game and that rushing for 400-plus yards against Detroit had to count for something when you lose by a small margin).

Green Bay traveling to the Big Easy promised so much: two gun QB’s duking it out. Opposing head coaches, each with Super Bowl rings and mean and nasty defenses going a metaphorical twelve rounds and rabid Saints fans under the Dome making life tough for Aaron Rodgers. What we got instead, was a warning to never write the Saints off while Drew Brees, Sean Payton, Jimmy Graham, Junior Galette, David Hawthorne and Rob Ryan have a pulse.

The first half of the match was like the classic (depending on your point of view: classically bad, classically 80s (the same in some people’s opinions), classically classic) pairing of Mick Jagger and David Bowie to cover Martha and the Vandellas genuine classic “Dancing in the Streets”; two greats doing a “whatever you can do, I can do better” shtick.

 

 

Aaron Rodgers opens proceedings in the first quarter by going long and threading the needle to Randall Cobb for a 70 yard TD? No sweat, says Brees. The champ goes 45 yards to Kenny Stills and then Brandon Cooks walks in for a 4 yard TD on the following play and we’re tied.

The New Orleans D restricts Green Bay to a field goal on the Pack’s next drive, and likewise Green Bay’s defense keeps Brees and the Saints to a field goal and we’re tied at 10-10.

Ditto the second quarter and we go to the half tied 16-all and having watched brilliant football and some mouth-gaping “whatever you can do, we can do, too” action.

The third quarter is where this game busts wide open. Three “moments”* are all it takes.

Moment one: 9:12 remains in the third quarter. Rodgers in the shotgun. After the snap, the Saints have the Green Bay secondary covered and no one from Rodgers’ offensive line is in first down territory. Rodgers scrambles for the first down, but as he approaches the out of bounds line, his gait stiffens noticeably. As he hands the ball back to a referee, he’s clearly agitated, makes a donation to the swear jar on international TV and is grabbing high on the back of his leg. NBC’s Dr Cris Collinsworth** is convinced that Rodgers has strained or torn a hamstring. Olivia Munn and a large portion of Wisconsin stop what they’re doing.

Moment two: 7:46 remains in the third. Rodgers is in the shotgun. The ball is snapped and the intended pass is to Andrew Quarless, but instead gets picked off by New Orleans’ Linebacker David Hawthorne. On the resulting drive, the Saints take a 23-16 lead after the extra point conversion. Dr Collinsworth keeps insisting that Rodgers is injured. Green Bay’s actual medical staff seem to think he’s okay to play. Rodgers takes the field, so we have to accept that he’s good to go.

Moment three: 4:19 to go in the third. The Packers have had Rodgers in the shotgun on every offensive drive since moment one. Eddie Lacy – who for the majority of the game has been a human front-end loader – has become the game’s forgotten man. The Saints lead 23-16. It is 3rd and 7 on Green Bay’s own 34-yard line. Rodgers gets a pass off to Davante Adams, who is immediately hit. The line judge spots the ball and signals for the chains to be moved. The Saints are having none of that. Payton throws a coach’s challenge and the on-field ruling is overturned (with some on mic questioning that decision. As no one back in New York has any trouble with the call being overturned, this is just noise). The Saints D turns the Pack away on a 4th and 1. On the resulting drive, Drew Brees finds Jimmy Graham for a sublime 22-yard TD pass and the stage manager knocks on the Fat Lady’s dressing room door.

The final third of the game is a stark reminder of what New Orleans is capable of on their day. The final third of the game is also an insight into the mentality of the organization. If you want to say that the Saints only got on top because Green Bay’s QB became questionable, you – as Dave Dameshek would say – are only embarrassing yourself. Yes, I know that Rodgers was eventually taken out of the game, but argue with a straight face that Matt Flynn would have done better and I have some quality swampland to sell you. Rodgers took the field, so he was fit to play. Discuss how going to the shotgun rendered Eddie Lacy redundant all you want, but this result wasn’t due to an injury question on Rodgers. Give me a QB who can go 418 yards on (supposedly) one leg any day.

Here in Australia, the focus of the sporting community (and possibly Melbourne’s coke dealers and P.R hacks – but that’s a whole ‘nother story) is the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington. So let me sum up the game by borrowing some racing analogies.

There’s a saying that Melbourne Cups aren’t won down the straight six (meaning who cares who’s in front as the field leaves the straight and heads to the back side of the course). You need to be doing your best work with less than 400 meters to go. The rest is a journey. And that’s exactly how the Saints season is shaping up.

Despite some bad early season losses, the Saints are now traveling very well and improving as the season progresses. They look to me like they’ll be at the best when the NFL season enters the business end and their numbers continue to improve with each week. And more power to ’em for that. This win was all about the Saints getting it done. And how! New Orleans executed about as good as you could hope to see, they were focussed and above all, they were disciplined.  That’s what the difference was in this game.

Green Bay on the other hand, shouldn’t be – and probably isn”t – panicking. The final score was atrocious, but overall, they weren’t horrible. It was a bad second half. They’re fine structurally, you just can’t give away knucklehead yardage like they did on Monday morning. (note: You probably shouldn’t try calling audibles in the Superdome as the away team. Delay of game penalties? Please!)

A game that promised so much concluded not so much with the bang fans expected, but petered out to a whimper. New Orleans came to play  and Green Bay didn’t have it in them when it counted. Injuries and refereeing calls had nothing to do with it.

*I’m tempted to include Rodgers first quarter pass to Julius Peppers in the end zone on 2nd and 3 getting batted away, but Peppers – as champions do – atoned for it with some big defensive plays on the next Saints possession

**Not actually a Doctor. Results may vary.

Oct 26
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans LA (73, 146)

Green Bay – 10 6 0 7  23
New Orleans  – 10 6 14 14  44

Passing: Aaron Rodgers (GB), 418 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT’s
Rushing: Mark Ingram (NO), 24 car, 172 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Randall Cobb (GB), 5 REC, 126 yds, 1 TD
Pigskin Almanac “Gumbo” Award: Rob Ryan’s hair. That ‘do has no place on a 52 year old man, but he rocks it. Somehow.

About Steve Baker

Steve Baker cashed in his horses for choppers and went tear-assing around 'Nam, looking for the shit. He's been known to chopper in t-bones and beer and turn the L-Z into a beach party. Steve's the defending 'Most Pessimistic Dallas Fan' champion and is in the midst of a life-long campaign to one day buy the Cowboys off Jerry Jones and end the madness. He's also chief button-pusher for the Footy Almanac Podcast, so you can blame him.

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