GREEN BAY, Wis. — A.J. Hawk was sure he had just made a big play to preserve a victory for the Green Bay Packers.
With the Saints on the Packers’ 9-yard line, three seconds left on the clock and New Orleans needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie, Drew Brees threw a dart to Darren Sproles. Hawk broke on the ball, leaped high in the air and reached over Sproles’ right shoulder to poke the ball away. If Hawk made any significant contact with Sproles, it appeared to come after he tipped the ball.
Still, Hawk was flagged for pass interference.
It was that kind of night for the Packers defence. While they gave up too many big plays and a jaw-dropping 477 net yards of offence — including 419 yards passing by Drew Brees — the Packers got the stops when they needed them most to secure a 42-34 victory Thursday night.
No stop was bigger than the play that followed Hawk’s interference call.
Hawk said he “kind of lost it” for a moment, yet the game still had to be won: Time had expired but the penalty meant there would be one last play for the Saints to try to score from the 1-yard line.
New Orleans gave the ball to Mark Ingram, a rookie running back already establishing a reputation for being able to make hard yards inside — but not this time. Led by Clay Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett, the Packers defence swarmed Ingram and stopped him short of the goal line to preserve the win.
“Jeez, I knew we were there because of me, so I wanted to stop him more than anybody,” Hawk said. “Me and ’Bish’ (Desmond Bishop) went over the top and the D-line did an excellent job of getting a ton of push at the line of scrimmage. The whole team was in on that.”
The Packers’ defence has some kinks to work out, and more than a week to do so; their next game is at Carolina on Sept. 18.
“That’s too many points allowed,” Matthews said. “We take pride in how many points we give up. I’m not sure how many touchdowns we gave up, but it’s too many. Obviously, they’re a fantastic offence, Drew’s a fantastic quarterback, their offensive play calling, but there’s no excuse. If we want to be a top five defence, we have to be able to shut down powerful teams like that. We came away with the victory, we made the plays when we needed to, but there’s a lot of stuff to learn and we still need to improve.”
Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said defensive statistics are a secondary concern, especially when facing a high-powered offence.
“It comes down to the defence coming through,” Pickett said.
“We’ve got time to worry about our defensive stats later on. In the game, the big thing about our defence, we made plays when we had to. That’s been the story of our defence the last few years. When it comes down to the wire and we have to make a play, we make it. Yeah, they threw the ball down the field and got a lot of yards and put up some points, but in the end we were strong.”
Two of Brees’ touchdown passes were for 31 and 29 yards, but the Saints weren’t so hot when they were closer to the goal line. New Orleans was 1-for-5 in the red zone.
“If you talk to any defence, they always talk about bend-but-don’t-break,” Hawk said. “That’s kind of what we were trying to do tonight. We let them get in the red zone a lot, but if you can get stops in the red zone and hold them to field goals, you’re going to have a good chance of winning.”