THE BIG PICTURE
Learning to play without Aaron Rodgers will be a painful process for the Packers, who clearly lacked explosiveness Sunday in a 26-17 home loss to New Orleans. Brett Hundley occasionally flashed some skills, mainly with his feet, but coach Mike McCarthy kept his new starting quarterback on a short leash to avoid the kind of big mistakes (three interceptions) that sank the Packers last week at Minnesota. Green Bay tried to compensate by running the ball and playing inspired defense, but Saints quarterback Drew Brees (27 of 38, 331 yards) could not be contained. At 4-3, the Packers now get a much-needed bye week during which they can devote more time to tutoring Hundley.
Realistically speaking, the outcome of this game turned a week earlier when Rodgers broke his collarbone. But the Packers did battle the Saints for most of afternoon, staying in the game thanks to two first-half interceptions of Brees and two long, second-half New Orleans drives that produced only field goals. After the second of those field goals put the Saints back ahead 19-17 early in the fourth quarter, the Packers went three-and-out and gave the ball back to Brees. This time, the crafty quarterback directed an eight-play, 55-yard drive that reached the end zone, with Brees scoring on a 1-yard sneak that put the game out of reach.
We likely witnessed a changing of the guard Sunday with the Packers’ ground game. They got another huge day from Aaron Jones (131 yards on 17 carries, including a 46-yard TD burst on the game’s first series). It was Green Bay’s longest run of the season and its longest rushing TD since James Starks dashed 65 yards for a score against San Diego in Week 6 of the 2015 season. Jones showed excellent instincts, particularly late in the third quarter when he bounced off the pile and turned no gain into 21 yards. That set up a 46-yard Mason Crosby field goal that gave the Packers their last lead at 17-16. Meanwhile, Ty Montgomery went nowhere (six yards on four carries). Eventually, the Saints realized Hundley wasn’t going to beat them and put nine men in the box to keep Jones in check.
Hundley had no chance when he was thrust into action at Minnesota, but after a full week of preparation and first-team practice reps, more was expected Sunday. Instead, McCarthy kept the training wheels on, limiting Hundley’s downfield throws. Hundley finished 12-for-25 for 87 yards and no touchdowns with an interception and an anemic passer rating of 39.9. He was much more dangerous with his feet, running three times for 44 yards, including a 14-yard TD run in which he looked to be going out of bounds but instead danced into the corner of the end zone. But it was clear the Packers weren’t asking Hundley to win this game, and he didn’t.
Poor Davante Adams. Set to become a free agent after this season, the Packers' gifted wide receiver was on his way to a monster season hauling in passes from Rodgers. On Sunday, he was nearly invisible. Adams was targeted five times but made only two catches for 12 yards. Jordy Nelson, long a favorite Rodgers target, had one reception for 13 yards. Randall Cobb? Two catches for 15 yards. Sadly for this once-potent passing attack, the most yardage gained by a Packers receiver was 17, on two catches by tight end Martellus Bennett.
In the latest round of Packers offensive line roulette, guard Lane Taylor (ankle) was ruled out but tackles David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (concussion) returned to the starting lineup after departing early against the Vikings. Justin McCray stepped in for Taylor to help a line tasked with opening holes for the running backs and giving Hundley time to throw. Mission accomplished: New Orleans sacked Hundley only once with just three quarterback hits, and the line paved the way for Jones’ big rushing day.
The Packers’ secondary welcomed back rookie cornerback Kevin King, who left the Vikings game early because of a concussion, and veteran corner Davon House (quadriceps) but still was missing safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) against Brees and speedy receivers Ted Ginn and Michael Thomas. The Packers held their own early, with Damarius Randall intercepting Brees in the end zone (his third straight game with a pick) on the Saints’ first drive and House ending another scoring threat on the next drive with an interception at the Packers’ 5. But Brees settled down and dominated in the second half, consistently connecting with Ginn (seven catches for 141 yards) and Thomas (seven catches for 82 yards) to keep drives alive. Green Bay’s pass rush did little to rattle Brees, with Nick Perry recording the only sack.
Bad enough that an inconsistent Saints running game gashed the Packers for 161 yards, with Mark Ingram gaining 105 on 22 carries. But Green Bay inexplicably had only 10 players on the field on Ingram’s 12-yard TD run in the second quarter. And particularly in the second half, Ingram and speedy Alvin Kamara (57 yards on nine carries, plus 50 yards on five receptions) too often either found big holes or shed would-be tacklers. Bottom line for Green Bay’s defense: It played well enough to win with Rodgers leading the offense but not nearly enough to do so with Hundley.
BITS AND PIECES
» Packers second-year defensive tackle Kenny Clark blocked a point-after attempt by Saints kicker Wil Lutz in the third quarter.
» Brees now has thrown for 300 or more yards in all seven of his career games against Green Bay.
» With the loss, the Packers fell to 10-3 at home against the Saints.
» Paid attendance was announced as 78,389.