Packers erase 17-point fourth-quarter deficit as Jordan Love notches first Lambeau win
On Sunday, the Packers became just the third NFL team since 2000 to go scoreless through three quarters and come back from 17 or more points to win.
On Sept. 9, 2018, the Green Bay Packers fell behind 17-0 at halftime of their home opener. Aaron Rodgers rallied the team late in the game, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter to secure a one-point victory.
Though the Packers' new starting quarterback didn't have the type of statistics Rodgers delivered that day, he should feel no less proud of the 17-point comeback he piloted during the fourth quarter of Sunday's tilt with the New Orleans Saints. Green Bay became just the third NFL team since the turn of the century to go scoreless through three quarters and then erase a deficit of 17 points or more, an impressive feat by any reasonable standard.
Today's edition of The Leap unpacks Green Bay's victory and takes a peek at a major piece of business the front office will soon have to address.
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Packers' comeback win more the result of luck or resilience?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: After falling behind by 17 points before halftime, the Packers needed both luck and resilience to stage a comeback. While previous iterations of the team could have done so purely through force of will, a Green Bay squad entering Week 3 of the Jordan Love era without 40% of its starting O-line (David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins), its No. 1 receiver (Christian Watson), its top offensive playmaker (Aaron Jones), and its star cornerback (Jaire Alexander) couldn't have erased such a significant deficit without some help from the Saints.
Even so, the comeback would not have transpired if not for the Packers fixing (or meaningfully reducing) the problems that kneecapped them through three quarters.
For most of the game, the offense struggled with execution errors and penalties rather than an inability to identify weaknesses in the Saints defense. In several big moments like the failed trick play that saw rookie Emanual Wilson dirt a throwback to Jordan Love who subsequently slipped on the field as a result, the design produced a wide-open receiver who should have moved the sticks, perhaps even more.
A similar mistake came later that quarter when Love sailed a pass over the outstretched arms of Musgrave.
The Packers offense also shot itself in the foot with penalties. Three of the starting offensive line drew a flag during the game -- Jon Runyan Jr. and Royce Newman did so on back-to-back plays to start the team's first drive -- as did pass catchers Luke Musgrave, Jayden Reed, and Samori Toure. In each case, the offense failed to move the sticks and either committed a turnover or punted, including Rashid Shaheed's touchdown return. Green Bay finished the game with 11 infractions totaling 90 yards.
But from the start of the fourth quarter, the Packers flipped the script on both fronts. The offense finally began to manufacture explosive gains and key conversions. The list includes multiple defensive-pass interference penalties on deep shots, a touchdown run on fourth down followed by a successful two-point conversion, and Love's beautiful back-shoulder throw to Romeo Doubs for the go-ahead score.
And during the final quarter, the Packers committed just two penalties (neither on offense) while the Saints registered five. That ratio helped swing the game back in Green Bay's favor.
Of course, the Packers received some help in the form of an unplanned quarterback change by their opponents. The direction of the game shifted following the shoulder injury that forced Derek Carr off the field for the remainder of the day, leaving the Saints offense in the hands of Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. One cannot divorce the Packers' late-game success from Carr's departure.
At the same time, the Packers had to overcome a laundry list of injuries and a somewhat fluky special-teams score by New Orleans, all the while playing well defensively. DC Joe Barry's unit yielded just 10 points despite starting multiple series in disadvantageous field positions due to failed fourth-down attempts and the turnover.
The game hardly looked pretty for the Packers, but they turned it into a win primarily due to their resilience.
What do you make of Matt LaFleur's decision to go for two following the Packers' first touchdown?
JBH: Good coaches can make mistakes and bad coaches will occasionally make the right call. But for the most part, they fall into one of two groups: those who position their teams to win and those who actively hinder success.
On Sunday, Matt LaFleur demonstrated yet again why he belongs in the better of those two categories.
The Packers' first touchdown of the game cut the Saints' lead to eight points prior to the point-after play. Traditionally, teams kick the extra point, try to get a stop on defense, and play for the game-tying score. That method provides the easiest path to overtime but not necessarily the optimal chance at a victory. The numbers strongly suggest that coaches choose instead to go for two in those situations so that their squads can either take the lead with another trip to the end zone or, failing that, still tie the contest with a touchdown and a successful two-point try.
The Packers went for two, converted, and then took the lead on Doubs' score with less than three minutes remaining. For LaFleur's team, a game that once seemed nearly out of reach transformed into a victory in regulation for Green Bay in no small part due to that decision.
Compare LaFleur's approach to that of Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels. Trailing by eight with just over three minutes left on the game clock, McDaniels sent his field-goal unit onto the field rather than allow his offense to attempt a convertible fourth-and-5. That kick would have turned a one-possession game with little time remaining … into a one-possession game with little time remaining. Worse, the Raiders would still have needed a touchdown in order to erase the deficit.
The Pittsburgh Steelers initially bailed McDaniels out with a penalty and a new set of downs, but he proceeded to attempt another field goal after taking roughly an additional minute off the clock. The Raiders did not see the ball again before the final 12 seconds of regulation. Unsurprisingly, they did not march down the field for the go-ahead score.
The anti-analytics crowd focuses on anecdotal examples of failure rather than the complete picture. One weekend won't undo those perceptions, but shining light on smart coaching by LaFleur (and the poor decision-making of one of his peers) can hopefully help.
What does Rashan Gary's performance against the Saints say about his long-term future?
JBH: Only 322 days have passed since the ACL tear that ended Rashan Gary's 2022 season. Three games into 2023, he still hasn't played his typical number of snaps, instead seeing action primarily in obvious passing situations and other key downs. That approach could remain in place for a little while longer as the Packers have a quick turnaround in Week 4 and have their bye two weeks later.
And despite those limitations, Gary has looked as impactful as ever against the Saints. Officially, he set a career high in sacks for a single game (three) and hit the quarterback four times in total. But the pressure he consistently generates extends beyond the box score. Throughout the game, he hurried throws and forced incompletions, beating both All-Pro right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and 2022 first-round pick Trevor Penning over the course of the game.
And Gary's performance against the Saints doesn't look like an outlier. In just 34 snaps over the previous two games, he registered eight total pressures, two defensive stops, and a sack, according to Pro Football Focus. Officially, Gary received credit for just a half sack entering Week 3. Those numbers do not include his sack of Justin Fields in the season opener negated by an unrelated penalty.
"I don't think there's anybody in here that wouldn't go to war with this dude," LaFleur said of Gary during his postgame speech in the locker room.
At this point, the Packers should probably move extension talks with Gary to the front burner. Though general manager Brian Gutekunst can keep the talented pass rusher off the open market via the franchise tag next offseason, a long-term deal would better serve all parties. Gary's price tag will only increase if he continues this torrid pace, and the eventual increase in workload could supercharge his production. The sooner both sides can agree on a new agreement, the better for everyone, Green Bay in particular.
Though the Packers have sometimes refrained from negotiating extensions during the season, exceptions exist. Just last year, Jenkins signed his current deal with multiple games remaining, and Gary looks like no less of a priority at this stage. Exactly how much the team will ultimately commit to him remains unclear -- the going rate for elite edge rushers now comes in north of $25 million per year with the San Francisco 49ers' Nick Bosa resetting the market at $34 million earlier this month -- but Gary's substantial impact merits a substantial contract.
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