“It was like a nightmare that went to a dream,” said coach Matt LaFleur. “I can’t even remember the fourth quarter, it was a blur.”
The fourth quarter began with the Packers facing 4th-and-2 from the New Orleans 13-yard line. But a pass from Love to running back Patrick Taylor fell incomplete with neither on the same page. At that point, an already daunting 17-point deficit felt like too much to overcome.
“The fourth down,” said LaFleur, “to be honest with you, we were looking at the match up of (Luke) Musgrave and what he was going to have. But Demario Davis, who was covering (Patrick Taylor), but he was seven or eight yards off and he (Jordan Love) looked out there and saw it open.
“In that situation, what I told Jordan was, ‘If you like the matchup, you can take it. If not, you can take the delay and we’ll get three points.’ I can’t fault him for the decision he made.”
However, the defense forced a quick three-and-out against the Derek Carr-less Saints to give the ball back to the offense and that is when the comeback charge began. A 22 yard completion to Jayden Reed and a 23 yard completion to Romeo Doubs sparked a drive that ended with an Anders Carlson field goal that only took 1:50 off the clock. With 11:00 minutes left in the game, the Packers were down 14.
The Green Bay defense forced another quick punt, giving the Packers the ball back with 8:27 on the clock. With Green Bay trying to push the ball down field to challenge this aggressive Saints secondary, the Packers drew a pair of pass interference penalties that all of a sudden had them at the 13-yard line. Then on fourth-and-one from the one-yard line, on a read-option, Love kept it himself and beat linebacker Demario Davis for the touchdown.
”It was a read option,” said Love. “It was one-on-one and it’s really who wants it more. I saw him out there kind of flying over and I just knew I had to make it in. I really wanted to get in the end zone right there and I just knew I was going to try.”
In a somewhat gutsy, but calculated call, LaFleur decided to go for two. Had the Packers failed to convert, they still would have been down just one score, although they would have needed to convert a two-point conversion later in the game. But with Love’s initial read not there, he had time behind an offensive line that held up very well in pass protection to find Samori Toure in the end zone.
“Well,” started LaFleur, “I’ve got this guy Connor Lewis in my ear non-stop telling me, ‘Go for two, go for two.’ To be honest with you, I didn’t feel great about the play call, and then the execution definitely was not how we practiced it, but I had a lot of belief in the way our quarterback was playing. He was making off-schedule plays.
“I thought, ‘Well, if the initial read isn’t there, we have a guy that can go off-schedule’ and that’s what happened. We went off-schedule.”
Another three-and-out forced by the Packers defense gave the offense the ball back, down only six with 5:23 on the clock. On third-and-one, Love scrambles for 24 yards putting Green Bay in Saints territory. He then connects with Reed two plays later for 30 yards and then a few players after that, Love finds Doubs in the end zone for the game tying score. Carlson would then make the go-ahead extra-point.
Things got a little hairy at the end as the defense allowed the Saints to get inside the Packers 40-yard line. But they ultimately stoped New Orleans from converting a third down, which led to missed 47-yard attempt by Saints kicker Blake Grupe, giving the Packers the come from behind win.
A massive turnaround from where this team was a week ago in Atlanta, after giving away a 12 point fourth quarter lead.
“The resiliency of that locker room is incredible,” said LaFleur. “I have never seen anything like it. It’s hard not to get too emotional about it. But I just can’t say enough great things about this group in terms of just their mentality. Their belief in one another. The way they work.”
Overall, Love was 22-for-44 for 259 yards with a touchdown and an interception, which included tough sledding for three quarters, although that’s, of course, not all on Love. The receivers struggled to make contested catches for much of the game. In the fourth quarter specifically, Love still didn’t fill the stat sheet, completing 7-of-18 passes for 104 yards with a touchdown and 25 rushing yards. But when a play had to made, Love came through.
“That wasn’t always how we drew it up,” said LaFleur, “certainly, but when he had to make plays, he was making plays. And I thought there were more plays out there.
“But, the poise that he shows is really remarkable. I think the leadership that he shows is unbelievable. I would go down there before we take a drive and he’s talking to all the guys and encouraging everybody. Those guys are going to fight for him. I think everybody in that locker room is going to fight for Jordan Love.”
There were too many errors and missed opportunities, especially early on by Green Bay, that almost put this game out of reach for the Packers. In total, they had 11 penalties and despite being able to move the ball into New Orleans territory on several occasions, Green Bay was scoreless through three quarters. The defense would keep the Packers in this game, surrendering just 10 points, while the offensive line gave Love the time he needed to either escape the pocket or find the open pass catcher.
“I thought it was great,” said LaFleur of the defense’s performance. “I’ve got to go back and look at the tape. I was wracking my brain and trying to figure out how to get a first down most of the game. Our coaches work their butts off trying to come up with a plan to, in all phases, to attack whomever we are playing and our players were battling and competing their butts off. They did a great job defensively. Joe Barry and that crew did a great job and we really held them to 10 points. A lot of the credit goes to our defense today.”
Although, to a degree, the deficit that the Packers found themselves in was very much self inflicted, they didn’t blink, and just kept chipping away until the clock hit zero. For a young team, it’s this type of performance under difficult circumstances that can provide a huge confidence boost. It took all three phases stepping up at the end and making the necessary plays when required to pull off the come from behind win.
Love’s performance in crunch time on Sunday was the first that many outside of the Green Bay locker room were able to see that level of play from him. But for those inside the locker room, it wasn’t a surprise at all. His teammates knew what he was capable of.
”Just him and the resiliency just to come out there down 17 into the fourth,” said Elgton Jenkins, “the ultimate downs, he don’t blink. He just goes out there and do what he do. Offense rallies around him, defense does what they do. It was a special, special performance, now. We always knew that he had it, things like that. But just him being able to go out there and just put it together live for everybody in his first game at Lambeau, it’s just special. Just special.”