What exactly lost the game for the New Orleans Saints?


The New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers put on one hell of a show in the opening game of the NFL season Thursday night. New Orleans lost 42-34, getting stuffed at the goal line on the last play of the game, but what else contributed to the last-second loss?

For the game to have been that close is a positive in it of itself and we can collectively thank Drew Brees and the potent Saints offense for that, but why were the Saints playing from behind from the opening possession onward? There simply isn’t enough fingers to point at all of the contributing factors.

The Defense (or Aaron Rodgers being Aaron Rodgers)

Aaron Rodgers did his thing Thursday night. From the very first drive of the game you could tell Rodgers was on point, hitting receivers for solid yardage seemingly every play, no matter the coverage. Even a sack by LB Jonathan Casillas that set up a 3rd and 12 for Green Bay did not deter Rodgers as he got his team a first down on the very next play. The drive ended on a pass to Greg Jennings on an overmatched Patrick Robinson for the way-too-easy score.

The Packers scored five touchdowns on their first seven possessions. Whether the Saints blitzed (which wasn’t often enough) or sat back in coverage (which is what you DON’T want to do against Aaron-freaking-Rodgers), Rodgers abused the Saints secondary all night. Was it that the Saints’ defense played that bad or because the Packers offense is just that good? When the supposedly revamped defensive line creates zero pressure on arguably the best quarterback in the league, this is exactly what will happen. The Saints defense was yet another victim for Rodgers & co.

But let’s get back to that defensive line. What happened? From the naked eye watching the game live, it looked like the Saints got dominated in the trenches. New additions Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin were non-factors. The coverage, especially early in the game, was serviceable. More than a few times, Rodgers had to look to his 3rd, 4th, and maybe even 5th option in the passing game. The problem is that he had the time to do that. Rodgers sat in the pocket, usually because of a mere 3-man rush, and picked apart the Saints defense. The defensive line disappointed everyone Thursday night. Perhaps Will Smith is more important than people thought.

Colston’s Fumble

After the Packers scored with no problem on the first drive, it was evident that the Saints would have to score quickly on their own to keep up. A stick was thrown into those spokes, however, as the Saints’ first drive ended before it really started. On what was a promising 1st down completion to Marques Colston, Packers safety Nick Collins put his head on the ball, putting it on the grass for a sea of Packers to pounce on. This set the Packers up in Saints territory at the 36 yard line.

Could the Saints set the Packers up any better than they did? Probably not. Colston’s fumble led to a quick touchdown that put the Saints in a 14-0 hole that they never were able to dig themselves out of. Yeah, the defense allowed the score, but the turnover handed them prime field position that put the defense back on the field almost immediately. A field goal would have been a victory for the defense, but with how Rodgers was playing that really wasn’t an option.

The fumble did happen way early in the game, but it’s effect on the game was huge, there is no denying that. You just can’t hand the ball to one of the best offenses in the game, in their house, after they just torched the defense with ease. The Packers went up 14-0 and the Saints had to abandon the offensive gameplan from the get-go. The fumble changed the game completely.

3rd and 4th down Inefficiency / Run Blocking / Playcalling

I’m chunking this all together for a reason. The Saints are awful on short yardage plays. It was apparent all night long and it’s been apparent for quite some time now down in New Orleans. For a team with arguably the best guard tandem in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, the Saints seem to have the hardest time converting 3rd and 2s, 3rd and 1s, 4th and inches, etc, etc.

A prime example of these three factors came together with 3:40 to go in the 3rd quarter. First, on the Packers’ 7 yard line, Mark Ingram was stuffed on a 3rd and 1 for no gain – awful run blocking. The line had absolutely no push, giving Ingram nothing. Very next play, 4th and 1, Sean Payton opts against an easy field goal (can’t blame him either) and decides to go for it. At this moment, Saints fans are thinking “Don’t get cute, Payton. Don’t get cute. Run the ball again, get that one measly yard.”

He got cute. Instead of a QB sneak, another plunge for Ingram, a FB dive, or any short yardage play…Payton calls a playaction pass that was snuffed out from the beginning. Drew Brees is forced to run around in the backfield with no options open – turnover. Chalk this one up to a questionable playcall AND bad run blocking, all in one, on this particular series of plays.

The final instance where this all came in to view was after the Saints somehow had the ball with just seconds on the clock with a chance to tie it up (let’s stop and think for a second here, after all that went wrong, after Rodgers killed the defense all night, after the fumble, after everything…the Saints were still only down one score. Thank you, Drew Brees). Thanks to a fantastic (for Saints fans) pass interference call, the Saints were set up on the 1-yard line with no time left on the clock. One more play. What do you do? Do you try to get fancy, call a playaction pass and put the ball in the best player on the team’s hands in Drew Brees? Or do you do what you didn’t do earlier in this same situation, and pound the rock and get that one measly yard?

Payton, this time, decided to put his trust in the offensive line and Ingram to get the touchdown. We know what happened then, stuffed. Put down. Not even close. Owned. The Packers went all out, sold out, went low and high, and stopped the Saints on the goal line as time expired. Once again, a questionable call (even though you can’t blame Payton for running it on the goal line) because you could have kept the ball in Brees’s hands. It’s not so much questionable, more like misplaced. Swap this play with the one in the 3rd quarter where the Saints ran a playaction that failed, and maybe it’s a different outcome. Then again, hindsight is 20/20. But it does not take away from the fact that, once again, there was horrid short yardage run blocking. Ingram never had a chance.

Obviously, all of these factors and others not mentioned contributed to the loss, so you can’t just pick one to shoulder all of the blame. When you play the defending Super Bowl champions, one of the best QBs in the league, at Lambeau Field on the opening night of the NFL season…you cannot have a fluke fumble. You cannot have questionable playcalling. And you certainly cannot continue to let short yardage be the death of a drive. A positive for Saints fans is that despite all of what went wrong and how fast it went wrong, Drew Brees and the Saints were in it until the clock read 0:00. That’s something you can depend on with the New Orleans Saints.