Saints vs Packers: Green Bay's Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 4
Just days after the Green Bay Packers lost to the Seattle Seahawks on a controversial ending to the game on Monday Night Football, the regular referees had a hand in the outcome of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field as the Packers beat the Saints 28-27.
A holding penalty wiped out a Garrett Hartley 43-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that would have given the New Orleans the lead, and the Saints kicker missed the follow up.
That came on the heels of a blown call by the officials that ruled Darren Sproles was down by contact on a fourth-quarter kickoff when replays showed he had fumbled. The Packers were out of challenges and were not able to challenge the call.
Winner: James Jones
Maligned by drops and inconsistent play in the past, James Jones may have made the biggest impact of his career as the Packers beat the Saints on Sunday.
Facing a third down with less than two minutes remaining in the game, Jones made a seemingly impossible catch as a Saints defender committed a pass-interference penalty.
The penalty would have iced the game anyway, but it doesn't take away from Jones' amazing catch to give the Packers a first down. As the Saints were out of timeouts, all the Packers had to do was kneel on the ball to run out the clock.
On top of Jones' notable fourth-quarter catch, he scored the first touchdown of the game on a 12-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to put the Packers up 7-0 and later had another 14-yard grab in the second quarter to extend the Packers' lead to 21-7.
For a player that's been highly criticized, including his play in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears that led to an interception, Sunday's game offered a bit of redemption for Jones.
Loser: Dom Capers
It's been an up and down season thus far for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers after being picked apart in Weeks 1 and 4 of the season, but was solid in Weeks 2 and 3.
Sunday did not feature one of Capers' better defensive game plans as the Saints racked up 474 yards of offense, 446 through the air.
Drew Brees in particular was impressive, as he completed over 64 percent of his passes, along with three touchdowns.
In rather remarkable fashion, the Packers finished with a negative-two turnover margin and managed to win. The Packers didn't force a single turnover, as they allowed Brees to pick them apart.
Capers attempted using a unique defensive package with seven defensive backs, but it didn't work and didn't last. For the most part, their zone coverage was exposed by Brees time after time.
Winner: Offensive Line
The Packers came into Sunday's game by allowing the most sacks in the NFL (16).
As if it were a remedy, the Packers faced a Saints team with a poor pass rush that seemed to cure most of Green Bay's woes.
Regardless of the Saints' ineptitude at generating a pass rush, the Packers offensive line could still feel good about themselves after not allowing a single sack.
It helped allow Aaron Rodgers to throw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns, as the Packers did most of their damage through the air.
They also helped pave the way for a rushing effort that averaged a respectable 4.1 yards on the ground.
Loser: Graham Harrell
Backup quarterback Graham Harrell came into the Saints game having never taken a single snap in a regular season game.
That changed in the third quarter when Harrell came into the game for one play after Aaron Rodgers had to exit the game when a Saints defender was penalized for a facemask call and swiped Rodgers across his face, apparently affecting his vision.
Harrell's debut was an unmitigated disaster after he tripped on an offensive lineman and fumbled while attempting to hand the ball off to Cedric Benson.
One would think that Rodgers was still in the game, a fumble wouldn't have happened as Harrell's inexperience was apparent.
Rodgers came into the game on the next possession, and Harrell didn't have to play again.
Winner: Cedric Benson
After having only two first-half rushes in the Week 3 game against the Seattle Seahawks, it didn't take long for the Packers to commit to the run on Sunday against the Saints when Cedric Benson had two carries on the Packers' first two plays of the game.
Benson had a particularly effective first half by rushing for 51 yards on 11 carries, good for an average of 4.6 yards.
Granted, the Packers had the 32nd-ranked run defense coming into the game, but Benson still helped the Packers have a balanced offensive attack.
Benson finished with over 100 all-purpose yards by gaining 84 yards on the ground and an additional 22 yards receiving on four receptions.
It appeared at one point that the Packers might have their first 100-yard rusher in a single game since 2010, but two turnovers in the second half prevented Benson from getting additional work.
Loser: Greg Jennings
The Packers suffered an unfortunate injury when wide receiver Greg Jennings re-aggravated a groin injury and couldn't return to Sunday's game.
Jennings made an impact before exiting by catching a second-quarter nine-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers, which put the Packers on top 14.-7.
Originally injured in Week 1 against the 49ers, Jennings sat out Week 2 versus the Bears and returned in Week 3 against the Seahawks.
A free agent at season's end, Jennings has had a difficult time getting anything going with any consistency this season, and it remains to be seen how his groin injury will affect him going forward.
It's just wondering out loud at this point, but it's possible Jennings is a candidate for the Packers' injured reserve exemption that would allow him to fully heal and return a minimum of six weeks later in the season.
If Jennings ends up having a season affected by injury, it could impact his ability to command a big-time contract in the offseason.
Winner: Gutsy Special Teams Calls
Mike McCarthy made his second high-risk, high-reward call on special teams this season that worked in the Packers' favor.
On Sunday, the Packers coach called for a second quarter fake punt on 4th-and-inches inside his own 20-yard line.
A snap to fullback John Kuhn gained five yards and got the Packers the first down on a drive that ended in a touchdown, broke a tie and gave the Packers a seven-point lead.
This call came on the heels of a fake field goal for a touchdown in Week 2 against the Bears on 4th-and-26.
These special teams calls are really coming as unexpected, which is part of the reason for their success. McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for making them work.
Loser: Packers Secondary
The Packers defensive backfield obviously had a difficult time facing Saints quarterback Drew Brees, as he threw for 446 yards.
Part of the blame lies with defensive coordinator Dom Capers, part of it with a pass rush that rarely got home, but the Green Bay secondary still had its issues, which is especially disappointing given the way it played the previous two weeks.
No one player was to blame. Sam Shields appeared to think he had safety help over the top on the 80-yard touchdown from Brees to Joseph Morgan. And the Packers safeties had a difficult time reaching on the many several seam patterns ran by tight end Jimmy Graham and others.
After the Packers played Brandon Marshall and the Bears wide receivers so physically in Week 2 and it worked, it's perhaps curious that the Packers didn't do that more often on Sunday.