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Finally, fate smiled on the Packers

Posted Sep 30, 2012

They finally got a call to go their way, and it helped the Packers hold on for a 28-27 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Garrett Hartley’s field goal attempt from 43 yards with 2:58 to play in the game split the uprights and appeared to give the Saints a two-point lead, until a holding penalty moved Hartley back and necessitated a re-try, which he missed wide to the left.

Finally, the Packers found some good luck in a week that began with an official’s call that was so egregious it enraged a nation, ended the reign of replacement officials and triggered an eight-year labor agreement between the NFL and its regular officials. The Packers’ week of “zebra” hell ended with the holding call that turned the tables on the Saints.

“Very frustrating play,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of what replay confirmed to be a fumble by Saints kick returner Darren Sproles, but which was canceled by “down by contact,” as announced by Referee Jeff Triplette. “The call on the field was … it was blown dead,” McCarthy added.

Had that call gone the Packers’ way, the home team might not have needed an assist from fate at crunch time.

There was also a McCarthy coach’s challenge of a catch by Jimmy Graham. The replay showed the ball hitting the ground, but Triplette ruled that the catch would stand.

“Disappointed in that one, too,” McCarthy said.

What more might McCarthy have said had the Saints won this game?

The holding penalty on Hartley’s successful kick made a 57-yard touchdown drive by the Packers in the fourth quarter the game-winner. Hartley’s kick, the one he missed, eased the Packers’ pain, maybe even saved their season.

“Let’s not be foolish. There are going to be calls every week we’re going to disagree with,” McCarthy said.

So ended a week that challenged the Packers to overcome adversity. McCarthy said it was the greater of the two victories on Sunday.

“That minus-two turnover ratio and win the ballgame, fumble on the one-yard line, that’s big stuff, is how I look at it,” McCarthy said.

“I’m very proud of our football team, especially considering the week we’ve endured. It showed up big,” he added of his team’s character.

The Packers had to overcome more than questionable officials calls to win this game. They also had to overcome themselves, especially a fumble by Graham Harrell as he attempted to hand the ball off to running back Cedric Benson. It was a play that began at the Saints two-yard line, a first-and-goal play following a facemask penalty against the Saints that resulted in Aaron Rodgers being poked in the eye and having to leave the game. Rodgers would return a little later, but not in this drive.

“In hindsight, I should’ve probably given Graham something a little easier,” McCarthy said, referring to the zone-blocking play that required Harrell to pull quickly away from center and make an out-stretched handoff to Benson. It’s the most difficult of all quarterback/running back exchanges, and Harrell tripped over a lineman’s feet as Harrell pulled away from center.

Four plays later, Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ eyes lit up when he looked downfield and saw wide receiver Joseph Morgan 20 yards behind Packers cornerback Sam Shields. It gave the Saints a 24-21 lead with 3:49 to play in the third quarter. Only five plays earlier, the Packers were on the doorstep of stretching out their lead to 28-17.

It’s happened that way for the Packers during a seven-day stretch that seemed to have the Packers in the crosshairs. No matter how well they played, fate seemed determined to claim them as a victim.

Not this time. This time they made the plays and had the call go their way at crunch time.

The Packers might make no bigger play in this season than the fourth-down, fake-punt run by John Kuhn that converted a fourth-and-one from the Packers 17. Gutsy call? Conservative critics would apply other language to describe the play call, which occurred with the Packers leading 14-7 early in the second quarter.

“They gave us a look. They played heavy to the protection. It was a well-executed play by our punt team. Based on the pre-snap, I thought it was going to be an even bigger play,” McCarthy said.

Big plays? The defense made them when they counted most.

Leading 21-14 on the opening series of the second half, the Packers held onto the lead, thanks to a gritty goal-line stand by the Packers defense, which held on six downs from inside the Packers 11 yard line. Following a personal foul against B.J. Raji that gave the Saints first and goal from the Packers one, the Packers stopped one pass for a one-yard loss, and then safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Tramon Williams broke up passes on consecutive downs, limiting the Saints to a chip-shot field goal.

With the game on the line, however, the Packers needed an assist from fate. Finally, they got one.

Additional game coverage - Packers vs. Saints

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