They combined for a 28-4 record last season, beginning with a “Kickoff” game that was a masterpiece of offense. Their quarterbacks won the league’s MVP and offensive player of the year awards. One of those quarterbacks set an all-time passing yardage record, the other re-wrote the record book of one of the most storied franchises in all of sports.
So, as the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers head toward a Week 4 showdown at Lambeau Field this Sunday, the obvious question is: Why do they have only one win between them?
The answer to that question has a lot to do with the controversy each team has faced. The Saints have battled through a “Bountygate” distraction that has cost them their focus and their head coach. The Packers, of course, are currently embroiled in one of the most controversial and heartbreaking defeats in NFL history.
“This game is tough,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in searching for an explanation as to why that which came so easily to both teams last season, has been out of reach through the first three weeks of this season.
The Saints set 15 NFL records for offense last season. Currently, they’re 10th in the league in total offense and Brees is near the bottom of the league’s passer rankings with a 77.0 passer rating. Meanwhile, the Packers are 25th in total offense and Rodgers is middle-bound in the passer rankings with an 87.0 passer rating after having been sacked eight times in Seattle, in the first half.
“Do we have to break that record every year? We might never get close to that yardage record again, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be a good team,” Brees said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t be a contender.”
Being a contender almost certainly means the 0-3 Saints have to begin winning soon. Some would say they’re facing a must-win game this week.
“Of course you miss him, but there’s nothing you can do about it, and we are perfectly competent and capable to right the ship,” Brees said of playing without Sean Payton at the helm. “It’s all been really tough, but we’re making our way through. We didn’t expect the way it’s started off, but I’m very confident in the guys we have in the locker room that we’ll be able to turn it around.”
Aaron Kromer is the Saints’ interim head coach. He’s also the team’s offensive line coach and has the kind of no-nonsense personality necessary to focus a troubled team.
“We’re obviously still trying to get into a routine, being 0-3. We haven’t had that in a long time around here. We’re doing the best we can to get into a routine and get this thing straightened out,” he said during an interview with Packers media on Wednesday.
What specifically have been the Saints’ problems?
“We haven’t been playing well enough. We haven’t been running it well enough and we haven’t been stopping the run well enough. We’re losing by a touchdown each week and we have to do one touchdown better,” Kromer said.
“We’re not playing fast enough. We’re not decisive enough. We need to play faster, be more decisive and hold each other accountable. When we get there, we’ll be a good defense.”
The Saints’ most recent defeat has been their most stunning, a 27-24 loss in overtime to an 0-2 Chiefs team that had been hammered in the first two weeks of the season. The loss to the Chiefs brought the Saints’ issues to a dramatic head.
“It appeared last week that we did a much better job. We got a couple of turnovers and we capitalized and made them into 14 points. They broke one out and then the wheels fell off a little bit, both offensively and defensively,” Kromer said. “I’m balancing this interim situation the best I can.”
Meanwhile, the Packers find themselves having to regain their focus following a loss in Seattle that focused a nation on an officials’ call that dropped the Packers’ record to 1-2.
“That’s tough mentally and that’s what you’re challenged with when a situation like that arises. What you have to do is think about football and what you have to do to win a game,” Kromer said of blocking out distractions, such as those that have dogged the Saints.
What’s Kromer’s opinion of the final play in Seattle?
“I don’t have a reaction to it. That’s football. That’s a part of it. I always say that if it has to come down to the last play of the game, then maybe you should’ve solved the problem earlier. If you miss a field goal, as we did last week, then you should’ve gotten the first down and you wouldn’t have had to kick a field goal,” he said.
About the possibility of having the league’s regular officials back at work this week?
“That means nothing to me. We’re 0-3, we have a lot of work to do and we’re worried about that,” Kromer said.
It’s about focus this week for two teams trying to get back to where they were last season, when they gave the football world one of the most entertaining games of the season. Additional coverage - Sept. 26