What a turnaround.
The Packers' offense had another big game Sunday night, but it needed a pick-me-up after getting stuffed on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter of a tie game.
The defense, having just surrendered a potentially demoralizing touchdown to Saints star Alvin Kamara, was forced to rebound quickly. And it did, in a big way, to help capture a 37-30 victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as the Packers improved to 3-0.
Za'Darius Smith's hit on Saints gadget QB Taysom Hill forced a fumble that he recovered himself, setting up the Packers to break the 27-all tie with a go-ahead field goal. Green Bay's defense then stuffed New Orleans on a three-and-out, and the offense responded with the game-sealing touchdown.
"Our defense gave us a couple really important stops," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who got his first win at the Superdome in three career tries. "We needed to pay them back right there."
The momentum swing the defense provided came oddly enough right after Kamara made the Packers look silly in catching a short pass and breaking four tackles on his way to a 52-yard touchdown reception. That tied the game in the final minute of the third quarter.
When running back Aaron Jones got stopped on fourth-and-1 near midfield on the Packers' next possession, the Saints (1-2) took over in position to retake the lead in a back-and-forth game.
But two snaps later, on second-and-3, Smith knocked the ball out of Hill's hands and it was as though the failed fourth down never happened.
"Yeah that was huge. That was really huge," Rodgers said. "Tie game there, big play by Z."
Added Head Coach Matt LaFleur: "He came up with the play of the game that really kind of swung it in our favor."
It turned out to be the Packers' best answer for the Kamara-led Saints, as the star running back finished with 197 yards from scrimmage (139 receiving, with 13 catches on 14 targets, plus 58 rushing on just six carries) and two touchdowns.
"Certainly he had too many good plays on us today," LaFleur said of Kamara. "We've just got to be more consistent as a defense."
The Green Bay Packers faced the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020.
The Packers, with second-year pro Ty Summers getting the first defensive snaps of his career filling in for an injured Christian Kirksey (shoulder) and calling the signals, kept enough other weapons in check. The Saints only had one gain from someone other than Kamara longer than 13 yards until their final drive when they kicked a field goal to set up an onside kick, which never went 10 yards.
The Packers' defense also got the first two sacks of Kingsley Keke's career, while Summers and undrafted rookie Krys Barnes were the two leading tacklers.
It allowed Green Bay to come out on top as two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Rodgers and Drew Brees, had very similar games statistically with three TD passes apiece.
Brees threw for five more yards (288 to 283), had just seven incompletions (29-of-36) to Rodgers' 11 (21-of-32), and posted a passer rating just a tick higher (127.8 to 124.9) with both missing their top receiver to injury. The Saints' Michael Thomas (ankle) and the Packers' Davante Adams (hamstring) didn't play.
It was the Packers getting a career-high 146 receiving yards and a TD from Allen Lazard, and involving the tight ends to the tune of a combined nine catches for 104 yards and two TDs for Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger and Marcedes Lewis, who emerged with enough other options to make the difference.
"It wasn't an explosion of offense but the efficiency was really, really good," said Rodgers, referring to the Packers going 4-for-5 in the red zone and 5-for-11 on third downs.
Lazard's big night included two deep balls amongst his six catches – a 48-yard reception down to the 2 in the second quarter and a 72-yard catch-and-run down to the 3 to open the third quarter. He finished the first drive with his own TD catch, and Jones (16 carries, 69 yards) polished off the other with a fourth-and-goal plunge from the 1.
Lazard also drew a key defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone off a free play on the game-clinching touchdown drive, setting up Tonyan's 1-yard TD right at the two-minute warning for a 10-point lead.
"That's what good teams do," Rodgers said. "They close it out."