We knew there would be growing pains, and against an outstanding Saints’ defense that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in ten consecutive games, Jordan Love mercilessly picked on former Packers cornerback Isaac Yiadom and led a furious fourth-quarter rally to steal victory from the jaws of defeat — preserving Green Bay’s win streak in home openers, and keeping pace in the division with Detroit looming on Thursday.
The Saints got off to a quick start on their second possession, driving right down the field and rubbing it in a bit, as quarterback Derek Carr hit former Packer Jimmy Graham for a 9-yard touchdown. The Saints have been among the best on special teams for years, and they extended their lead to 14 on an explosive 76-yard punt return by Rashied Shaheed in the second quarter. The Packer offense was listless as Jordan Love’s inconsistent accuracy was a poor match for the tight coverage of Marshon Lattimore and company, and a last-second field goal gave the Saints a 17-0 halftime lead, with no real hope in sight for the Pack.
To their credit, the Packer defense played an extremely tough game despite the absence of Jaire Alexander who developed a back issue over the week and was a bit of a surprise scratch. Kenny Clark was a dominant force up front, but the biggest difference-maker was Rashan Gary, who was an absolute monster. Gary recorded three sacks, and more importantly, knocked Derek Carr from the game. Joe Barry has taken a lot of heat from Packer fans and analysts alike, but his unit was outstanding despite being undermanned.
Still, the Packers looked cooked heading into the fourth quarter, even after a field goal by Anders Carlson cut the deficit to 14, when they made an important strategic decision. Starting corner Paulson Adebo was forced to miss the game with injuries, replaced by former Packer special teamer Isaac Yiadom. The Packers decided to make a concerted effort to attack Yiadom over, and over, and as the offense opened up, the Packers were also able to take advantage of two pass interference penalties to move down the field, and Jordan Love was able to cap off the drive with a rushing score.
The Packers pulled an analytics coup by going for two and converting on a pass to Samori Toure, drawing them to within 6 points. It’s a controversial move among the football laity, but it paid off handsomely when the defense held and Green Bay was able to march right back down the field, highlighted by a 24-yard Love scramble, and a 30-yard bomb to Jayden Reed, who made the most difficult catch of the day after dropping several easy ones. Love would cash in, hitting Romeo Doubs on his 3rd attempt at a post-up Mossing of a Saints’ corner, giving Green Bay a one-point lead.
The Saints would move down the field, but the Packer defense held, and Blake Grupe missed a 46-yard field goal with about one minute remaining. The Packers would have had time for a final drive with two timeouts and a minute remaining had he converted, but it was ultimately unnecessary.
It was an incredible, impressive, intelligent comeback from a seemingly insurmountable deficit, and while the early numbers will look ugly, Love showed just how special a playmaker he can be when the game is on the line.
The Packers have a short week to prepare for the Lions on Thursday, who figure to be their toughest opponent so far, but for now, this one is worth celebrating.