Maybe the New Orleans Saints defense isn’t as bad as it appeared the first three games of the season.
The 32nd-ranked Saints defense showed some signs of life in the second half Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. After allowing the reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers to shred the Saints’ secondary in the opening half, things started to click in the second half for the Saints.
The Saints entered the game by allowing an NFL-worst 477.3 yards per game (262.3 via the pass and 215 on the run). The Packers finished with 319 yards passing and 102 yards on the ground, but those numbers could be deceiving.
Rodgers threw for 165 yards (17-for-22) and three touchdowns in the first half, but the Saints slowed down the potent Packers attacking, surrendering 154 yards and just one score in the second half.
More importantly, the Saints gave up 21 first-half points, but just seven points in the final 30 minutes.
“We just came into the locker room and sort of revamped everything, revitalized it, re-energized the defense and got after them in the second half,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “You can’t question the effort.”
Safety Roman Harper thought the defense did a respectable job against a strong Packers offense.
“I don’t think we were awful the first half,” Harper said. “They came out there no huddle and they made a couple plays and we had some bad penalties and kind of kept them alive. Overall, I know we competed hard and second half we got some turnovers and that always helps, giving our offense an extra possession.”
Creating those two turnovers were turned into 10 points, and that was key to the Saints’ much-improved second half.
“We made some plays,” cornerback Jabari Greer said. “We got an interception, we got a turnover. Any time you do that, we created some momentum, so we got an opportunity and the offense did a great job putting points on the board and capitalizing on turnovers.”
With the Packers clinging to a 21-17 lead and threatening on the Saints’ 2-yard line with 5:19 remaining in the third quarter, Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins recovered a fumble by Packers backup quarterback Graham Harrell. Four plays later, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees connected with wide receiver Joseph Morgan for an 80-yard touchdown.
The fumble recovery caused a potential 14-point swing as Green Bay went from going up by 11 points to New Orleans taking its first lead of the game at 24-21.
On the next drive for the Packers, Rodgers tried a back-shoulder pass to wide receiver Jordy Neslon, and Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson stepped in for an interception. The Saints offense also converted that turnover into points as kicker Garrett Hartley hit a 27-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
However, when the Saints’ defense needed its biggest stop, the Packers converted on their only second-half points. Green Bay had a seven-play drive — where Rodgers went 5-for-6 for 49 yards — and scored the game-winning, 11-yard touchdown pass to Nelson with seven minutes remaining in the game.
“We didn’t get enough pressure on Aaron (Rodgers),” Jordan said. “We got him out of the pocket a couple times, but it wasn’t enough. We have to get better at that.”
There is still plenty of room for improvement for the Saints defense. The Packers were 4-for-8 on third-down attempts and 1-for-1 on fourth down. The Saints allowed a staggering 30 first downs.
The New Orleans defenders are looking ahead to the next game against the San Diego Chargers and hopefully learning from another close defeat.
“There’s always something to be taken away from each game, and I’m looking forward to watching film, breaking it down and trying to get better, even more so for next week,” Jordan said. “We have to.”
Harper said if the Saints players just keep playing, good things will eventually happen.
“We’ve got a lot of positive things going on,” Harper said. “Best thing is this locker room’s going to continue to fight for each other. Nobody’s pointing fingers. We all believe in each other’s abilities and we’re just going to continue to grind. As long as we’ve got another game, we’re going to continue to swing and go out there and play. It’s not a lack of confidence. We’ve gone into every game believing we’re going to win this game and we just have not been on the winning end yet.”
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