Gameday Notebook: One Win and Super History

We're not done with the Fail Mary yet, as we examine the history-altering difference between one win and one loss in a 16-game season. Plus, Darren Sproles and Randall Cobb, A.J. Hawk, Drew Brees and the sad-sack Saints defense highlight our 21-point preview that is guaranteed to be the biggest and best anywhere.

The Green Bay Packers say they've moved pass the officiating debacle in Seattle. Whether they have or not will be apparent when they face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon.

"It's just like the saying, you can forgive but you don't have to forget. We won't forget but we'll forgive," cornerback Tramon Williams said this week.

As the calendar turns to December and heads toward January, the so-called Fail Mary will become a bigger and bigger issue. In a 16-game season, it's almost inconceivable that the win that became a loss won't have some sort of impact on the Packers' fate, whether it's the difference between playoffs or no playoffs, first-round bye or playing on the road in the wild-card round. Of the last five Super Bowl champions, three wouldn't have made it to the playoffs, and eight of the last 11 champions might have had their fate altered.

"That's definitely true, but right now, it's such a long season," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "We feel like we can overcome this for sure. We can overcome starting 1-2. We put us in that position. We feel like, as a defense, we should have pitched a shutout until then and then it wouldn't have been the case — it wouldn't have mattered if they had scored on that last play. We can definitely overcome this. We know it's a long year but we know we need to find a way to right the ship this weekend."

Added defensive end Ryan Pickett: "At first I did (think about it), but not now. It's one game. If we go out and take care of business, we'll be fine. We're about getting better and improving as a team. One win, could it come back and bite you, sure?"

Look no further than 2010, when the Packers earned the last NFC playoff spot on a tiebreaker. Take away any one of those nine regular-season wins, and the Packers don't even make the playoffs, much less win their fourth Super Bowl championship. Ditto last year's Super Bowl champions, the Giants. Would the 2009 Saints have advanced to the Super Bowl had the NFC title game been at Minnesota? The 2008 Steelers wouldn't have gotten a first-round bye. The 2007 Giants wouldn't have made it to the playoffs. The 2005 Steelers would have had to win three road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. The 2002 Buccaneers would have had to play a wild-card game rather than getting a bye — and the beat-up Packers would have gotten a much-needed bye rather than getting pounded by Atlanta in the wild-card game. The 2001 Patriots, who beat Oakland in the infamous "Tuck Rule" game in the divisional round, would have played that game at Oakland. Even the 1996 Green Bay juggernaut might have been impacted. Depending on who that extra loss came to, the NFC title game might have been played at Carolina.

Cobb's role based on Sproles

As one of the Packers' first four opponents, coach Mike McCarthy spent extra time examining the Saints. One of the byproducts of that film study was expanding the role of Randall Cobb.

"I watched every snap of (Darren) Sproles and, frankly, just in preparation of some ideas for what we're trying to do with Randall Cobb," McCarthy said.

On the surface, the comparison seems a bit odd, including positions (Cobb plays receiver and Sproles plays running back) and their dimensions (Cobb is 5-10, 192 and Sproles is 5-6, 190).

Sproles, however, is one of the league's most dangerous threats in the open field. Cobb has shown that same big-play ability, whether it was primarily as a kick returner last year or in his expanded role as a part-time running back this season.

"They'll split Sproles out, throw him the ball," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "They run a lot of screens. They get the ball to him with a couple linemen in front of him. He's got the quickness to make people miss and he's more physical than what people think. This guy's strong."

The strength is the major difference. Not that Cobb can't power his way through a tackle, but Sproles' lower-body strength makes him much more than a scatback when lined up in the backfield. After averaging 6.9 yards per carry last season, he's averaging 8.9 this season.

Sproles set the league's single-season record for all-purpose yards last season with 2,696. He's on pace for 2,843 yards this season. Cobb hasn't been a slouch with 369 yards on rushes, receptions, punt returns and kickoff returns, putting him on pace for 1,968 total yards.

"We do have similarities but I want to be Randall Cobb, I don't want to be Darren Sproles," Cobb said. "I want to be my own player and leave my own mark. I think that's pretty cool that's who they looked up to find some of this stuff because we do have some similarities, but he's more of a running back and I'm more of a receiver."

Hawk off to strong start, but …

Even while playing only 71 percent of the snaps, Hawk has a team-leading 33 tackles, by the Packers' count.

"I think A.J.'s having a good year," Capers said. "He's doing all the things that we're asking him to do. I think he's playing physical, he's been active. I think his production has been good. Obviously, you can see in three games, that we're playing a lot of personnel groups a lot more than we did last year because we played an awful lot of nickel last year where we're playing five, six personnel groups this year."

Those personnel groups probably mean Hawk won't play much against the Saints. The Packers are running a heavy dose of dime — unofficially, 40 snaps in three game — and almost certainly will run more than that 13.3-snap average against a Saints offense featuring Sproles and tight end Jimmy Graham. Sproles caught seven passes in last year's game, including a 36-yarder when matched up against Hawk.

"Sproles is a rare guy with his ability to receive and run with the ball," Capers said. "Every time he touches it, he has a chance to make a big play. You have to be aware of your matchups with him because he's tough to handle one-on-one."

Brees vs. Packers

Drew Brees has dismantled the Packers, just like he's dismantled most defenses.

In four career starts against the Packers (including one with San Diego), he has thrown for at least 320 yards and two touchdowns in every game. In the last two games against the Packers, Brees has seven touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 132.2 rating.

Brees torched the Packers for 419 yards and four touchdowns last season, starting Green Bay's season-long problems on that side of the ball. Brees, however, isn't surprised by the Packers' early-season resurgence on defense because he thought last year's problems were somewhat overblown.

"Here's the thing that you forget or maybe people don't realize," Brees said in a conference call. "But last year, they were winning. When you get up by three touchdowns, teams have no other choice but to throw the ball. They're probably in prevent defense and that's why you're giving up yardage. Those statistics don't really tell the story. This is a very good defense, extremely good against the run, great pass rush, extremely talented guys in the secondary. So, all the way around, this is as solid a defense as there is."

Sad-sack Saints defense

The Packers' offense has been a mess but the Saints' defense has been much, much worse.

They're last in the league in yards (477.3 per game) and rushing (215.0 per game). Quarterbacks (Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Matt Cassel) have riddled the Saints for a passer rating of 101.2, which ranks 25th. Going inside the passer rating, they've intercepted just one pass and are allowing a 31st-ranked 9.1 yards per attempt.

Opponents are hogging the ball for 37:06 per game, which has helped keep Brees off the field. You'd think that would mean teams are moving the chains on third down, but that would be wrong. They're right in the middle of the pack at 38 percent, meaning teams are making a killing on first and second down.

"We have to come out with a better defensive attitude where we're going to really come out there and knock some people out," said Roman Harper told FOXSports.com's Alex Marvez. "So what about fitting and thinking? Take all that out of the book and just go play defense like we're in the backyard. That's where you just line up, whup the guy in front of you and find the ball. We've got to do more of that. When we do that, everything will be fine."

History lessons

— The Packers lead the series 15-7, including 9-2 at home. Of those 11 home games, seven were played in Milwaukee. Green Bay won last year's season-opening showdown 42-34, a victory clinched when Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett stopped Mark Ingram at the goal line on the game's final play.

— High-scoring games are the norm when these teams meet. In matchups in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011, the teams combined for 272 points, an average of 68 per game.

— The Packers and Saints are the only teams to field top-10 offenses in each of the last six seasons, a history dating to McCarthy becoming Green Bay's coach and Sean Payton becoming New Orleans' coach. In each of those years, the Saints have finished ahead of the Packers, including last year, when Green Bay finished third in yards (406.1 per game) but New Orleans finished first (467.1).

— The Saints' first coach was Tom Fears. The Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver spent part of the 1959 season coaching for Vince Lombardi and returned from 1962 through 1965. With the first pick of the 1967 expansion draft, the Saints selected Paul Hornung, though he wound up retiring because of a spinal injury, and they signed Jim Taylor.

Key numbers

— That the Packers lost last week was no surprise. In McCarthy's tenure, they're 39-2 when scoring at least 30 points but 25-33 otherwise. That includes a 5-12 mark when scoring 11 to 20 points.

— Then again, it was a surprise the Packers lost last week. During McCarthy's tenure, they're 45-9 when allowing 20 or fewer points, including a 26-8 mark when allowing 11 to 20 points.

— The Packers are converting just 40.5 percent of their third-down opportunities, a far cry from their 48.1 percent of last season and 45.2 percent since the start of the 2009 season. Over the last 25 games, when the Packers convert at least 50 percent of their third downs, they're 12-1.

The other sideline

— Who is interim coach Aaron Kromer? Payton hired him as running backs coach in 2008. He's been the team's offensive line/running game coach since 2009. He's done a fantastic job, with five offensive linemen being named to the Pro Bowl. In 2009 and 2011, his unit won the Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award, given annually to the league's top offensive line.

— Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 46 consecutive regular-season games, the second-longest streak in NFL history. Johnny Unitas holds the NFL record of 47.

"When you say that name Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, certainly his accomplishments speak for themselves, and one of the pioneers of this game, to even be in the realm of a record that he's held for a long time, it's an honor," Brees told reporters in New Orleans. "It's humbling.  Obviously, we're not there yet, but I focus on my job.  I focus on what I need to do to help our team win.  Usually that stuff just takes care of itself."

— The Saints aren't just a dome team. Since 2009, they boast a league-best 18-7 record away from home.

— Another week, another challenge for the Packers' special teams. Punter Thomas Morestead ranks second in the league in net punting (49.8 average) and last season boomed a league-record 68 touchbacks, Sproles handles the returns (29.1 on kickoffs, 9.2 on punts and five career touchdowns) and Martez Wilson blocked a punt in Week 1 that was returned for a touchdown by Courtney Roby.

Four-point stance

— Through three weeks, there have been 28 games decided by eight points or fewer, tied for the most at this point of the season with the 1998 campaign. The Packers and Saints have played a role in that, with all three of New Orleans' games and two of Green Bay's games decided by that one-score margin.

— That the Packers and Saints are struggling is a surprise given their quarterbacks. Since the start of the 2008 season, when Rodgers took over as starter, here are their league rankings in five categories: Passer rating (Rodgers, first; Brees, third); passing yards (Brees, first; Rodgers, third); touchdown passes (Brees, first; Rodgers, second); yards per attempt (Rodgers, second; Brees, fourth); and 25-plus-yard passes (Rodgers, first; Brees, second).

— He gets a lot of grief from fans, but with 15 catches, Jermichael Finley is on pace for 80 receptions. That would obliterate the team record for a tight end, Paul Coffman's 56 catches in 1979. Finley had 55 catches in 2009 and 2011.

Charles Woodson (202), Jeff Saturday (200) and Donald Driver (195) have played in 597 career games, meaning that trio will reach the 600-mark against the Saints. The leading trio in Denver's Keith Brooking, Peyton Manning and Champ Bailey, who have played in 620 games.

Quote of the week

Or the best quote that didn't find its way into a story …

Brees, on the slow starts by himself and Rodgers: "Aaron played as well as you could possibly play the quarterback position last year. And you look at the numbers that were put up and the success of the team, I mean, it was phenomenal, it was unbelievable. So, there's this expectation level now. Hey, listen, it's not always going to be or look easy. This game is tough. This game is tough. And other teams get better from year to year. You're going to have those times where you face some adversity in whatever form you might face it. … I know my expectation for myself is extremely high. I assume it is for him as well. You can't allow what other people are saying, just because of that expectation level, people are going to say, ‘You're not on pace to break the touchdown mark anymore or the yardage mark anymore.' Do you have to break that record every year? Do you understand all the things that have to come together in order to do what we did last year in breaking that yardage mark? But we might never get close to that yardage mark again. It doesn't mean we're not going to be a good team, we're not going to be a successful team. We may not win 13 games this year in the regular season. It doesn't mean that we're not going to be a contender."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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