After sputtering and misfiring through much of a 1-2 start, this was the Packers offense everyone was waiting to see. This was the unit that led the league in scoring last season, piloted by an MVP quarterback. And while they weren't quite on last year's 35 points-per-game pace, they definitely looked the part. Green Bay put up 28 points on the Saints' league-worst defense. They needed every one of them to escape with a 28-27 victory in a game that featured a leaky defense, their starting quarterback getting poked in the eye — followed by his backup fumbling on the 2-yard line — and some horrendous officiating calls ... again.
But 2-2 is better than 1-3 in a way that far exceeds one more mark in the win column. Of course, you could be the 0-4 Saints.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31 passes for 319 yards with one pick and four touchdowns in outdueling Drew Brees, who completed 35 passes for 446 yards with no interceptions but one less score.
While eight different players caught passes from Rodgers, arguably no one made more of their opportunities than James Jones. The sixth-year player from San Jose State, who has frustrated coaches and fans alike with his drops, came up with three of the biggest catches by a Packer this season. His performance included two touchdowns among five receptions for 56 yards and a ridiculous first-down catch late in the fourth quarter that let the Packers run out the clock in a must-win game.
"Very happy with the way James played," coach Mike McCarthy said. "James has been very consistent this year and he's clearly off to his most consistent year in his time here, in my opinion."
Jones' first highlight came moments after Saints strong-side linebacker Scott Shanle broke up a pass in the end zone to tight end Jermichael Finley on first down at the 12-yard line. Rodgers was chased to his left on second down and Jones alertly saw his quarterback under pressure and adjusted his route to the end zone. Jones caught the pass ahead of Shanle and in front of Finley — the intended target — for the game's first points.
Two weeks after the Chicago game, when he broke off his route on a miscommunication with Rodgers, Jones was on the money with this adjustment.
"The play broke down and Aaron scrambled," Jones said. "On the scramble, I saw Jermichael inside of me, so I had turned outside and he turned outside with me. I just saw the ball when I looked up and grabbed it from him, so I owe him one."
With just under 5 minutes left in the first half, Rodgers and Jones hooked up again. On third-and-5 from the Saints' 14-yard line, Jones lined up wide right. Rodgers took the shotgun snap and threw short over the middle to Jones, who easily made the grab in front of cornerback Jabari Greer.
Jones may have been lighting up the new JumboTron, but he was hardly Rodgers' only target of the half or the game. Jordy Nelson led the way with eight catches for 93 yards and a score. Second-year sensation Randall Cobb had seven grabs for 66 yards — lining up in the slot, as well as operating out of some secret government experiment code named "Cobra formation" that saw him run out of the backfield and take a shovel pass up the middle for 17 yards.
Greg Jennings aggravated his groin and left the game after hauling in a 9-yard score on his only catch of the day three plays into the second quarter. But when Green Bay's offense is clicking, opportunity can turn any receiver on the depth chart into a playmaker.
And plenty of big plays were required. New Orleans would score 13 unanswered points to take a 27-21 lead before Rodgers found Nelson for an 11-yard touchdown that put Green Bay on top 28-27.
When Green Bay needed one more first down to make sure Brees — who was completing passes like it was a seven-on-seven drill for most of the day — didn't get one last shot. Jones had it in hand. Literally. On third-and-3 at the Green Bay 45, Rodgers dropped back, fired to his right and watched as Jones turned and caught the ball underneath the left elbow of Greer, who never saw it coming.
"Oh, thank God. Oh, man," Jones said. "The Lord was with me. I seen the ball thrown inside and I stuck one hand down there and sometimes you get lucky in football and that's what that was. I caught it under his elbow on the other side of his body and pulled it into the body. The biggest thing about it was it was a first down. We could run the clock out and get out of there with a victory.
"We're all about making the most of our opportunities. Aaron has a lot of weapons. If you ask the receivers, everybody is open on every play, so he's always going to get that. But if the ball comes your way, just make a play. That's what he tells us. You never know when you're going to get it, if it's going to come in the first quarter or the fourth quarter, but make the most of your chances and that's what I did today."
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.