It was, after all, Sunday night. We should have seen this coming.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees led his guys to a 44-23 win over the Packers, continuing one of the most impressive runs in the NFL.
He’s now won his last 14 prime-time home games, comfortable in the Superdome like few others have been.
His second half was nearly flawless, throwing three touchdowns and quickly breaking a deadlocked game wide open.
He finished the game 27-of-32 for 311 yards, averaging nearly 10 yards per attempt.
He also did it in typical Brees fashion, spreading it among nine different targets, and hitting shot plays down the field.
If their defense hadn’t betrayed them so badly during their 2-4 start, they’d be the kind of team you’d think might be dangerous in the postseason. But they might have squandered any chance at more than a single home game for winning the division.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1.Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t himself in the second half, particularly after coming up holding his left hamstring after a scramble for a first down.
His two interceptions (one tipped and not his fault, the second moreso) were double his previous season total.
Rodgers is dangerous on the move, but a hamstring problem wouldn’t just bother him running. Anything that throws him out of balance or makes him uncomfortable would change his passing mechanics, and prevent him from driving through the ball.
That’s why the upcoming bye week will be crucial for the Packers, as Rodgers looked like a man who needed to r-e-l-a-x and get some treatment.
2. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is back, as something other than a decoy.
Graham had five catches for 59 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter which gave the Saints a two-touchdown lead.
He was barely noticed last week in his return from a shoulder injury. He was targeted twice, but didn’t catch a pass, and only played 30 of 75 snaps.
But if he’s well enough to contribute again, it will make a huge difference for an offense that hadn’t been good enough in the first half of the season to overcome other problems.
Graham’s a part of their play-calling which can’t be replaced, because of his ability to create physical mismatches all over the field. With the emergence of rookie wideout Brandin Cooks, sets them up for the future beyond this week. Having Mark Ingram running the way he did Sunday (172 rushing yards and a touchdown) was almost a luxury, as the passing offense was so efficient.
3. Speaking of the future, the 3-4 Saints might be the most solid-looking playoff pick in the league right now.
Somebody has to win the NFC South, and they appear to have fewer problems at the moment than the 3-4-1 Panthers, who are 1-4-1 in the last six with the lone win against dysfunctional Chicago.
The short week and Thursday night trip to Charlotte will test the Saints, but their offense seems like the only side of the ball in their division which has approached consistent.
4. In other Packers injury news, right guard T.J. Lang left the game after the first possession with an ankle injury, and didn’t return.
Right guard problems aren’t always noticed (unless you’re not wearing any, hey-yo), but the Packers certainly missed him on a key fourth-down in the second half.
His replacement, Lane Taylor, was shoved back into the backfield on Eddie Lacy’s fourth-down attempt in the third quarter.
For an offensive line dealing with a number of injuries this year, missing the steady Lang would be an issue if he’s out beyond the bye.
5. There might not have been a more disappointed man in America than referee Ed Hochuli.
During the first half, his microphone wasn’t working, depriving him of the ability to be heard by a national television audience.
He hasn’t been this upset since the long-sleeves-mandatory dress code at the last Officials’ Ball.