Packers Win Despite Officials

The regular officials returned. There were questionable calls. But unlike last week's Fail Mary play in Seattle, Sunday's major gaffe by the men in the stripes didn't cost the Packers a victory.

Not again.

The Green Bay Packers had every right to be thinking in those terms late in Sunday's game at Lambeau Field, considering what happened last Monday night in Seattle.

The Saints' Darren Sproles had coughed up the football on a kick return with the Packers holding a one-point lead. But the officials, in their first game back after settling a labor dispute, gave little indication of a fumble.

The players battled for the ball, thinking otherwise. And after a lengthy scrum, the Packers' Jerron McMillian came out of the pile with the football. Still, the officials gave the ball back to the Saints.

Replays on the stadium's high-definition scoreboards showed Dezman Moses' textbook hit had clearly caused a fumble, setting off a mini-firestorm. Coach Mike McCarthy had words with the referee and was told the whistle had been blown. Guard T.J. Lang directed another official to the replays high above. And the 70,571 in attendance rained down a chorus of boos as though Brett Favre had returned in a Vikings uniform.

After two failed replay challenges earlier in the game, the Packers could take no further action.

Would a blown call cost the Packers a game for the second consecutive week?

This time it was not to be.

As the Saints began the ensuing drive amid a refrain of the "The refs still suck" from the fans, quarterback Drew Brees led his offense into scoring position. But after 11 plays and two penalties just before a potential game-winning kick, Garrett Hartley's 48-yarder sailed wide left with 2:49 remaining in the game. The Packers' offense then grinded out a first down and ran out the rest of the clock to preserve a 28-27 victory.

"I don't think I'm going to make any statements today," said Lang, who vented his frustration about the NFL and the replacement officials via his Twitter account following the controversial loss to the Seahawks. "I was pretty close to having a case of déjà vu, but we ended up pulling it out at the end, so not a big deal."

Lang got more than 90,000 re-tweets for one of his comments minutes after a 14-12 loss to the Seahawks. McCarthy chose to redirect his frustration into the Saints. And even after several more questionable calls Sunday from the "regular" officials, he managed to keep his emotions relatively in check – both during the game and in his postgame press conference – with a touch of humor.

"Well, I'll just say this," he began. "We were kidding about this inside. After what I went through last week, the league had called me and we talked about a few things, and they said that they were giving me a pass the rest of the year. I don't have to answer any more questions about officials. So, hey, it's great to have (the officials) back. I thought their communication did make a big difference clearly, the professionalism of the officials, the communication, the management of the game, it was definitely a totally different atmosphere. I think it was very evident if you paid attention to how fast the offenses were playing and the management of the game was able to keep up. So, it was great to have that part back for us and great to have them back, but obviously, let's not be foolish here, there's going to be calls every week that not everybody agrees with."

The ghost of Golden Tate appeared early against the Saints. In the first quarter, wide receiver Marques Colston pushed off on safety Morgan Burnett for 20-yard touchdown reception. What should have been offensive pass interference turned into a game-tying score for the Saints.

Two close replay challenges earlier in the game went against the Packers, too. The first came when wide receiver Jordy Nelson lost the ball while making an extra effort on a third down. The pass was ruled incomplete.

"I was pretty confident they weren't going to overturn it," said Nelson of the play. "I caught it, came down, and saw the first-down marker and tried to reach out to get the first down. And when I came down, the ball hit the ground and moved a little bit. It's the Calvin Johnson rule pretty much. We know what it is. You just have to maintain possession all the way through.

"I didn't tell (McCarthy) to challenge it. I told Aaron right away that when it hit the ground I knew it was going to be simultaneous – not simultaneous but continuation – (simultaneous is) not a good word around here. But I didn't tell Mike. I just ran back to the huddle and what kind of happened was we got down in the play clock, so instead of taking a timeout, he took a chance."

The other challenge from McCarthy came when Saints tight end Jimmy Graham caught an 8-yard pass on third-and-5. Replays showed the point of the ball hit the ground but the official's upheld their decision of a catch. McCarthy would only say afterward of the decision: "Well, I was disappointed with that one, too."

Referee Jeff Triplette and his crew, like others around the league, seemed genuinely excited to be back on the field after missing all of the preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season. They were greeted by the fans at Lambeau with applause and Triplette said over the microphone at the coin toss, "Gentlemen, let's play football!"

It took a span of only a few hours to remind everyone that officials, replacement or otherwise, are imperfect. As wide receiver James Jones said of his team enduring another frustrating night at the hands of the officials, "Oh, man. No comment on the officials. I'm glad we came out with a win. Everybody seen they missed a couple calls but they're human just like we are. We gotta fight through it and we did tonight."

As Jones alluded to, the difference between last week and another outrage this week was getting a close victory.

"Well, it gives us some confidence. I think 1-3 would have been difficult," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. "We've got a tough schedule coming up. We've got to play some games on the road. We've got to learn to win on the road with this group of guys that we have. One-and-three would have made that very difficult, I think. When you start having consecutive losses, you can't help but having that thinking of, ‘Here we go again' at times. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of that tonight with some of the calls but we were able to overcome it. I think it says a lot about the character of this team. This was an important win for us."

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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