NEW ORLEANS—The final score was lopsided but the opportunities were not.
The Packers left the Superdome in New Orleans on Sunday night knowing they had their chances to keep up with Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense, but they let too many chances get away.
Those frustrations led to a snowball effect on the other side, as the defense had a rough second half in what became a 44-23 loss.
"We just didn't execute in the red zone like we normally do," right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "I don't know how many times we got down there and came away with field goals or nothing at all.
"You can't beat a team like that without putting touchdowns up, not field goals. Against a high-scoring offense, we didn't do our defense any justice out there."
Through the first three-plus quarters, the Packers ended up with five possessions that reached deep into Saints territory, and those five possessions produced just nine points. A Packers offense that had been highly efficient in the past month with some of the best red-zone stats in the league suddenly lost its mojo.
Two red-zone trips in the first half were short-circuited by mistakes and ended with field goals. Julius Peppers dropped a potential TD pass on a slant, and that was followed by a sack. Offensive pass interference and delay of game penalties stalled the other trip in close. In between, a holding penalty just before reaching the red zone led to another field goal.
It got worse in the second half, with not only no touchdowns, but no points at all. Another goal-to-go opportunity ended in disaster, with a slant pass deflecting off tight end Andrew Quarless and into the arms of Saints linebacker David Hawthorne for an interception. Then in the fourth quarter, another deflected pass in Saints territory, this one off Davante Adams' hands, resulted in another pick, by cornerback Corey White.
"We just missed," said receiver Randall Cobb, who caught a 70-yard TD to open the scoring and finished with five catches for 126 yards. "Missed on a couple, had a couple drops, turned the ball over. Not to take anything away from them, but we shot ourselves in the foot a few times."
New Orleans turned both of the second half interceptions into touchdowns during a run of four straight TDs. That came after the Packers defense had stopped the Saints on a fourth-down run in Green Bay territory to open the second half with the score tied at 16.
It didn't become the spark the defense was hoping for, though, and Brees and the Saints simply got rolling, finishing with 495 yards and 28 first downs.
"We didn't play fundamental defense after that," safety Micah Hyde said. "They were just gashing us. We got out of our run fits, and we missed tackles."
The Saints found a run-pass balance that proved to be too much. Running back Mark Ingram finished with 172 yards rushing on just 24 carries, an average of 7.2 per tote. His 21-yard TD run with just over three minutes left finished the scoring and left the Packers simply shaking their heads.
"It puts you on your heels," cornerback Tramon Williams said of trying to defend a QB like Brees when the defense can't stop the run. "Run game, pass game, they're both working, everything just kind of gels for you. The play-action pass worked. They were running the ball well. They can look for matchups that worked. It was a tough deal today.
"The game shifted, and once the game shifted, they got into the game plan they wanted, and we got into the one we didn't want."
Several Packers insisted the defense would rebound after the bye week, though this is a sour performance to think about for two weeks. Brees put up a 138.4 passer rating (27 of 32, 311 yards, three TDs), nearly double what opposing QBs had been posting against Green Bay coming into Sunday.
"Coming down here, a very difficult place to play in, to get down like that, it's hard to overcome," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "I think that's what you saw." COMPLETE GAME COVERAGE