"They put us in long-yardage situations more times than you can have in this type of environment and against this type of team," said Packers head coach Mike Sherman. He wasn't singing the virtues of the opportunistic Saints defense, either. The source of Sherman's wrath was the Packers' seven penalties for 73 yards — all of which was on the offense.
Those incriminating totals could have been worse.
Earl Dotson, substituting for the injured Mark Tauscher at right tackle, was exonerated of illegal formation because of a fumble by wide receiver Terry Glenn and subsequent return for a touchdown by Keyuo Craver at the outset of the third quarter. Then in the next Packers series, the Saints let left guard Mike Wahle off the hook on an illegal-hands-to-the-face infraction. They did so because quarterback Brett Favre ran for only 13 yards on a third-and-18 play.
It was the one time Wahle felt fortunate.
His two egregious actions earlier in the game cost the Packers a combined 24 yards in advancement and possibly some needed points.
A hold of Saints defensive end Darren Howard drew a 10-yard penalty on a third-and-2 play in the Packers' first possession of the game. That negated a 12-yard completion from Favre to Glenn.
Though Wahle was bailed out by a subsequent 17-yard pass from Favre to halfback Ahman Green, the Saints came away with a drive-killing interception by linebacker Darrin Smith.
On the second play of the Packers' next series, Wahle erased a 12-yard pass to Robert Ferguson with a 15-yard personal foul on the Packers' side of the field. Wahle came in late with a block after Ferguson had been tackled.
Favre managed to brush the sequence aside and led the Packers on a 15-play, 71-yard march that culminated with a Ryan Longwell field goal to get within 7-3.
Still, Favre wondered how many golden opportunities the Packers threw away with the transgressions, no matter how minor some may have been.
"We know from experience and history that when we go away (to play a game), the things you have to do to win we haven't done," Favre said. "It's as simple as that — penalties, turnovers."
Favre himself wasn't a saint. He twice was guilty of intentional grounding for throwing the ball away to avoid a sack in the pocket. The penalties amounted to a loss of down and a total of 28 yards in losses.
It was instances like those that played into the hands of the Saints defenders, who had more leeway of going after Favre with one less down and a longer distance for the Packers to gain a first down.
"Then their defense did things with their nickel and dime packages and their speed and getting off the ball and pressuring the quarterback," Sherman said. Perhaps the greatest example of how the Saints benefited from the Packers' illegal ways came at the start of the fourth quarter. A holding call on right guard Marco Rivera wiped out a 6-yard run by Green on first down, putting the Packers in a first-and-20 hole.
The Packers ultimately faced a fourth-and-2 situation, which ended with Favre fumbling a long snap from center Frank Winters past midfield.
"You can't put your defense in the situations we put them in today," said Favre, adding in unpleasant terms that reflected the bumbling ways of the offense, "If I was on defense, I'd be (incensed); I would."