GREEN BAY, Wis. — The New Orleans Saints’ season of misery continues.
One week after blowing a double-digit lead at home and losing a game they should have won, the Saints appeared ready to make up for it and break into the win column Sunday in the unlikeliest of places.
But they came up empty at Lambeau Field, where they had won just once before, when Garrett Hartley’s 48-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide of the left upright with 2:49 to play, giving the Green Bay Packers a 28-27 win.
This time, the little things hurt the Saints — especially on the ill-fated drive that ended with Hartley’s second miss of the season.
“Obviously, I thought we had a chance to win the game,” said Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer. “But we didn’t make some plays at the end of the game that we needed to make.”
As a result, the Saints are 0-4 for the first time since 2007 — Sean Payton’s second year with the club. They rallied a little in the middle of that season before finishing 7-9 for their only losing season of Payton’s tenure.
It could have been different Sunday, especially after the Saints scored 20 unanswered points in a 171/2-minute stretch to turn a 21-7 deficit late in the second quarter into a 27-21 lead with 13:04 left in the game.
The Saints seemingly caught a break when Darren Sproles fumbled the kickoff after the Packers (2-2) regained a one-point advantage on Aaron Rodgers’ fourth touchdown pass of the day — an 11-yarder to Jordy Nelson — with 7:00 remaining.
An official ruled Sproles down by contact, even though replays clearly showed the ball was out before he hit the ground.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy, however, was out of challenges, and the Saints retained possession.
One of those plays Kromer talked about came 11 plays later.
Drew Brees, who had three touchdown passes, led his team down the field before the Saints’ drive stalled at the Packers’ 25 when Sproles dropped a short pass that would have kept the drive going.
Hartley came on for a 43-yard field goal and made it — but tight end David Thomas was called for holding, pushing the Saints back 10 yards.
After the Packers were penalized for encroachment, Hartley’s 48-yard kick was wide.
The drop by Sproles was one of the few times the Saints’ offense failed to keep a drive going, as they were 9-of-17 on third down opportunities and also converted once on fourth down.
“We made stops when we needed to,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “It seemed like at times they were moving the ball well, especially on third down.
“But ultimately, we came up with the stops when we needed to.”
The Saints’ offense and defense came alive late in the second quarter after the Packers took a 21-7 lead on touchdown passes of 12 and 14 yards to James Jones and a 9-yarder to Greg Jennings.
The last two came after the Saints tied the game at 7 on Brees’ 20-yard scoring pass to Marques Colston.
It was the 47th consecutive game with a touchdown pass for Brees, who tied Johnny Unitas’ NFL record set from 1956-60.
“We were able to get into a pretty good rhythm offensively and did some pretty good things,” said Colston, who had nine catches for 153 yards. “We left just enough plays on the field to come out on the wrong end again.”
Brees, who threw a 6-yard touchdown to Sproles with 27 seconds left in the first half, connected with Joe Morgan on an 80-yarder late in the third quarter.
Hartley sandwiched field goals of 20 and 27 yards around the Morgan touchdown to give the Saints a 27-21 lead before Rodgers — who left the game for one play in the third quarter when he was poked in the eye by Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins — came back with his fourth touchdown to Nelson.
The Saints’ defense settled down after giving up the three first-half touchdowns, coming up with two turnovers in the second half.
The first of those turnovers came on a botched handoff at the goal line by backup quarterback Graham Harrell after Rodgers went to the sideline with the eye injury.
Four plays later, Brees, who was 35 of 54 for 446 yards with three touchdowns, hit Morgan in stride after he ran past Packers cornerback Sam Shields on a go route for a 24-21 lead with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
Later in the period, cornerback Patrick Robinson intercepted a Rodgers pass that led to a Hartley field goal, extending the Saints’ lead to six points.
“I feel like this was our best performance of the season,” said Brees, who led an offense that put up 474 total yards.
“Defense got us two turnovers and we had zero offensively,” Brees said. “Unfortunately, when you play a great team like the Packers are, in their venue, you have to be darn near perfect.
“We were almost there, but not quite,” he said.
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