GREEN BAY - The situation was primed for quarterback Brett Hundley to do something special in the closing moments of a close game Sunday.
His team, the Green Bay Packers, trailed the New Orleans Saints by nine with 4:55 remaining and this was the opportunity to reassure the his teammates, coaches and fans that life without Aaron Rodgers was not a doomsday scenario.
But Hundley had struggled all day, his throws short and quick, his yardage small or nonexistent. He hovered around a 50 percent completion rate all afternoon on a rainy, windy day at Lambeau Field.
On first down he completed a short pass to wide receiver Davante Adams for 4 yards. On second down his pass toward Jordy Nelson was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell incomplete.
SILVERSTEIN: Packers' best hope lies with rookie Aaron Jones
D'AMATO: Defense a no-show in second half
On third down Hundley launched a ball deep down the field toward no one in particular. The ball was 5 yards beyond the nearest receiver, and safety Kenny Vaccaro settled underneath for an easy interception that secured a victory for the Saints, 26-17.
Reluctant play calling by coach Mike McCarthy only exacerbated Hundley’s inexperience and lack of chemistry with the starting receivers. The final numbers were indicative of how far this offense needs to go if the Packers hope to make the playoffs. Hundley completed 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards and an interception. His passer rating was 39.9 — a putrid mark.
Here are five takeaways from the Packers' loss:
Edge play: The Packers’ offense received a huge boost when tackles David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (concussion) were taken off the injury report Friday. Both players were available to start against the Saints, and Hundley could breathe easier knowing his bookends were in place along the offensive line. But just as important as their pass protection is what Bakhtiari and Bulaga bring to the run game. Both players reached the second level on the first drive of the game to wipe out the Saints’ linebackers and spring tailback Aaron Jones for a 46-yard touchdown run. Jones broke free up the middle and was completely untouched. As for Hundley, he was sacked only once all afternoon.
Leader of the Pack: Speaking of Jones, if there was any debate over which running back should receive the majority of carries — Jones or Ty Montgomery — that conversation ended quickly Sunday. Jones earned the start and turned in a spectacular performance once again. He carried four times for 70 yards and a touchdown on the opening possession and continued to slice the Saints’ defense all afternoon. Where Montgomery has appeared a step slow reading the play or making decisions, Jones reacts instantly and almost always chooses correctly. Jones finished with 131 yards on 17 carries for an average of 7.7 yards per carry. Montgomery played second fiddle throughout the game. He chipped in four carries for 6 yards as his role continued to shrink.
INSIDER: Thumbs up to Aaron Jones
Pick party: Players on the defensive side of the ball spoke all week about the need to create big plays and help the offense, which continues adjusting to a new quarterback. Come Sunday, the secondary wasted little time giving Hundley a nice boost. Cornerback Damarious Randall intercepted a pass from quarterback Drew Brees in the end zone for his third interception in as many games. Once again, Randall was the beneficiary of a ball that arrived in his lap, but he has the best hands of any defensive back on the team and has secured every chance he’s gotten. Davon House intercepted Brees again on a pass deep down the right sideline as the Saints moved toward the red zone. Both plays killed promising drives for the Saints.
BOX SCORE: Saints 26, Packers 17
GAME BLOG: Review Silverstein's live coverage
Secondary lapse: But from there the defense slowly crumbled. Other than a sack from outside linebacker Nick Perry, the Packers were unable to generate pressure on Brees, who wound up playing a terrific game. The combination of a quick release and extra blockers left Brees enough time to gash the Packers for bigger and bigger gains as the afternoon progressed. Brees completed 27 of 38 passes for 331 yards and a passer rating that rose steadily after the early interceptions. In particular, the Packers could not match the speed of wide receiver Ted Ginn, who at age 32 still caught seven passes for 141 yards.
MONDAY CHAT: Ryan Wood at 1 p.m.
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NAGLER: Post-game chat video
Clean swap: Brees and coach Sean Payton form one of the most harmonious coach-quarterback tandems in the National Football League. Their offense is fluid, complex and generally quite organized. As such, the Saints rolled their personnel frequently in the first half, shuffling between big formations with an extra offensive lineman and five-receiver sets, power looks with a traditional fullback and bunch formations with their best receivers. The Packers had significant substitution problems early in the game and had to burn a timeout in the first half. Later, on a 12-yard touchdown run by tailback Mark Ingram, the Packers only had 10 defenders on the field and allowed an easy score.