Brett Hundley’s first NFL start was a maddening one. The Green Bay Packers quarterback showed great promise in flashes during the team’s week seven game against the New Orleans Saints, but an apparent unwillingness by head coach Mike McCarthy to let him loose helped to slow the offense down and to lead to the team being held to just a field goal after halftime.
In the first half, the Packers intercepted Drew Brees twice, but went three-and-out after each pick despite having third and short opportunities on both series.
Combined with a massive deficit in time of possession contributing to a poor defensive performance in the second half, the offense’s inability to move the ball through the air eventually doomed the Packers. New Orleans outscored Green Bay 19-3 after halftime as they earned a 26-17 victory.
The Packers dropped to 4-3 on the season, while the Saints improved to 4-2.
Although the game plan will come into question, Hundley did not execute that game plan very well either. His stat line was particularly disappointing, as he completed just 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards and one interception. The Packers’ running game got off to a great start, and rookie Aaron Jones had a great day (17 carries, 131 yards, and one touchdown), but it stalled out in the second half as Hundley had less and less time to throw.
The Packers now go into their bye week, while the Saints host the Chicago Bears in week eight.
The first drive of the game was the Aaron Jones show, as the Packers’ rookie running back got his second start of the year. Jones ran the ball four times on the series, bursting through the line for a 15-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage and splitting the defense for a 46-yard touchdown to open the scoring and give the Packers a 7-0 lead.
In the first quarter, the Packers’ defense was the story, particularly the cornerback group. After allowing the Saints to cross midfield on both of their first two drives, the defense came up with huge interceptions. Damarious Randall had the first one, in the Packers’ end zone, followed by a terrific play by Davon House on the next series. Unfortunately, the Packers went three and out on both succeeding offensive drives, despite having third-and-one opportunities on both.
The Saints finally broke through with some power running of their own, as Mark Ingram took it in from 12 yards out. The Saints benefitted immensely from good field position due to Green Bay’s conservative playcalling, and were able to run over a tiring defense. Brees didn’t really do much outside of a controversial throw over the middle to Ted Ginn, but the Saints had to feel good being tied after 2 turnovers.
After Ingram’s touchdown McCarthy finally unshackled Hundley, and he rewarded that faith with a nice throw to Randall Cobb and an absolute seed to Marty Bennett. He then showed off the other big aspect to his game, taking the ball in from 14 yards out, and popping a New Orleans defender at the goal line for good measure. That put the Packers back up 14-7.
Late in the second quarter, the Packers had an opportunity to get their defense off the field on a third and 17 just before the two-minute warning. However, they could not defend a bubble screen to Ted Ginn, who picked up just enough yardage to keep the chains moving. However, three straight Saints passes led to a punt, and the Packers took over with just under 90 seconds remaining.
Hundley helped lead the Packers into scoring territory, with a couple of short passes to Aaron Jones and a third-down conversion to Geronimo Allison. A defensive pass interference penalty on Vonn Bell set up the Packers across midfield, but Mike McCarthy settled for a 59-yard field goal attempt at the end of the half, which Mason Crosby missed badly.
All in all in the first half, Hundley had a few nice moments, but more often than not he struggled to find open receivers downfield, either checking down or running frequently.
The Saints marched right down the field as Drew Brees was able to hit Michael Thomas for a big gain despite being hit as he threw. He would cash in on a 22-yard touchdown to Brandon Coleman, who made a nice move on Kevin King to break wide open. Brees picked on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who repeatedly failed to clean up after himself and allowed several first down conversions. However, Kenny Clark broke through the line and leapt to block the extra point, preserving a one-point lead for the Packers.
The Packers couldn’t do anything on their next drive, and the good offense for the Saints continued as Brees hit Ginn for 47 to start the drive. However, they were able to get tough in the red zone, holding New Orleans to a 28-yard Will Lutz field goal. That gave the Saints their first lead of the day, however, at 16-14.
Jones kept moving the football well, however, as the Packers responded by driving into field goal range. His 21-yard run set up the Packers near midfield before an unnecessary roughness penalty on New Orleans pushed the football over the 30-yard line. A 46-yard field goal from Mason Crosby gave the Packers the lead back at 17-16. As of the conclusion of the drive, Jones had 15 carries for 130 yards.
Another steady progression on the ground by the Saints offense led to New Orleans taking the lead back. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara gashed the defense, but a tackle for loss by Clay Matthews and a pass breakup by Davon House stopped the drive just outside the 20. Will Lutz’s 44-yard field goal put the Saints up 19-17.
After a penalty on Trevor Davis’ kick return, the Packers went three and out. That set up the knockout blow by the Saints, who took over at their own 45-yard line. Two plays later, a horse collar tackle by Kentrell Brice set them up inside the red zone, and a Drew Brees quarterback sneak on third and goal gave the Saints a 26-17 lead. To make matters worse, the Packers used their final two timeouts on that series to stop the clock, leaving Brett Hundley with just under five minutes and no timeouts to make up a nine-point deficit.
Three plays later, Hundley lofted a deep ball well over the heads of his receivers and into the waiting arms of Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, essentially putting an end to the game. New Orleans ran down the remainder of the clock, sending the Packers into a bye week off a loss.