The adversity was beginning to pile up on the Packers, again.
A fumbled handoff at the goal line when the backup quarterback had to enter the game. A third-down replay challenge that appeared to show a Saints pass hitting the ground, but it was ruled a catch anyway. A New Orleans fumble on a kickoff when the returner was incorrectly ruled down, but the Packers were then out of replay challenges.
“It was almost a ‘not again’ moment,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who could have been referring to any number of moments in Sunday’s 28-27 thriller over the Saints at Lambeau Field.
The difference here was time remained on the clock to do something about it. About all of it.
“You just have to keep punching,” receiver James Jones said. “We always know it’s not going to be pretty. We’re not going to get all the calls, even if we want to. The biggest thing is it was in our hands to make a play and win the ballgame, and you can’t ask for more than that.”
That play was Jones’ to make with two minutes left and the Packers needing one first down to ice it. Facing third-and-3, Aaron Rodgers took a shotgun snap and fired a quick back-shoulder-type pass to Jones along the sideline, who was blanketed by Saints cornerback Jabari Greer.
Greer had his back turned and the ball glanced off his hip. Somehow, Jones was able to haul it in while lying on his backside. A ridiculously good catch. First down, game over, Packers 2-2 at the quarter pole.
“Thank God. Oh, man,” Jones said, letting out multiple sighs of relief. “The Lord was with me. I saw the ball was thrown inside. I stuck one hand down there. Sometimes you get lucky in football, and that’s what that was. I caught it under his elbow.”
Greer was flagged for pass interference, so Green Bay was getting the first down regardless, but forgive the Packers if they weren’t going to count on the officials to give them that call.
The game-sealing catch capped an impressive day for Jones, who caught five passes for 56 yards and two scores. He snagged a 12-yard TD pass from a scrambling Rodgers on which Jones reached in front of a diving Jermichael Finley – “I stole one from him. I owe him one,” Jones said – for the Packers’ first points in the first quarter all season.
Then he added a 14-yard TD on a slant late in the second quarter for a 21-7 lead. It gave Jones just the second two-TD game of his career. The other was last Christmas night against the Bears.
“We’re all about making the most of our opportunities,” Jones said. “Aaron has a lot of weapons. If you ask the receivers, everybody’s open on every play. So he’s always going to get that.
“But when the ball comes your way, just make a play. That’s what ‘E.B.’ (receivers coach Edgar Bennett) tells us. You never know when you’re going to get it, if it’s going to come in the first quarter or the fourth quarter, but make the most of your chances, and that’s what I did today.”
The Packers wasted one big chance or all the drama might not have been necessary. Leading 21-17 in the third quarter, Rodgers got poked in the eye on a facemask penalty and Graham Harrell had to take over on first-and-goal from the 2.
Harrell promptly tripped over center Jeff Saturday’s feet as he pulled out on the snap, and the handoff never got to Cedric Benson. The Saints recovered the fumble and, four plays later, Drew Brees hit Joseph Morgan for an 80-yard TD pass to give New Orleans its first lead of the day.
“I was just stumbling, and I was like, well, if I can get it to Ced, he still might score,” Harrell said. “But I probably should have just went down and taken the loss of yardage and see if we can get in on the next two downs, and kick a field goal if we don’t. Luckily, we got bailed out.”
Harrell was bailed out because, as Jones said, the Packers kept punching.
After the failed challenge on tight end Jimmy Graham’s reception that kept a Saints drive alive – and a subsequent personal foul on B.J. Raji on a field goal try that gave New Orleans a first-and-goal – the Packers still held the Saints to a field goal.
After the Darren Sproles fumble that was nullified by a quick whistle on the kickoff return, the defense held and the Saints missed a field goal. Had they made it, there still would have been 2:49 left for the offense to counterpunch.
“I think those calls and those situations are training us for something to come in the future, or preparing a path for us,” said Benson, who had another solid day with 18 carries for 84 yards, a 4.7 average. “Because we had some tough calls out there today that didn’t go our way that clearly should have, but we continued on and continued to achieve the ultimate goal at the end of the game.
“I think that says a lot about this team, being dealt that adversity, seeing it’s obviously a wrong, and still prevailing. It’s awesome.”
While Benson waxed philosophical, Morgan Burnett was more succinct.
“To me,” Burnett said. “2-2 sounds a lot better than 1-3.”
Not just to you, Morgan, not just to you. Additional game coverage - Packers vs. Saints