NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees treated a national audience to yet another prolific performance in the Superdome, and New Orleans’ defense helped out with a few big plays of its own.
Brees completed 27 of 32 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns, and the Saints ended the Green Bay Packers’ four-game winning streak, 44-23 on Sunday night.
Rookie receiver Brandin Cooks had a 50-yard touchdown catch and a 4-yard scoring run, and tight end Jimmy Graham caught a touchdown pass. The Saints (3-4) pulled even in victories with Carolina (3-4-1), setting up a Thursday night showdown for first place in the NFC South.
Aaron Rodgers, intercepted only once in Green Bay’s first seven games, was picked off twice on tipped passes and sacked three times. He still passed for 418 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, but it was not nearly enough to prevent the Packers (5-3) from falling a game behind NFC North leader Detroit.
Eddie Lacy, who grew up in the New Orleans area, had 181 yards from scrimmage — including 123 yards on eight catches — in his homecoming, but was stopped on fourth-and-short in Green Bay territory in the third quarter. Soon after, the Saints cashed in on Graham’s touchdown to make it a two-score game.
Brees completed all 11 of his passes in the second half, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Hill, as the Saints improved to 3-0 at home this season. It also marked New Orleans’ 14th straight victory in a night game in the Superdome, going back to 2009. Most of those games weren’t close, and the latest one followed suit.
Green Bay was without two starting defensive backs: cornerback Sam Shields and safety Morgan Burnett. Compounding matters for Green Bay’s defense was the strong running of Mark Ingram, which only made Brees’ play-action fakes more effective. Carrying a heavy load in the absence of injured running backs Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson, Ingram had 24 carries for a career-high 172 yards and a touchdown.
The game appeared to turn on the Saints’ first interception, which came when the Packers were in range of a go-head score early in the third quarter. Cornerback Corey White tipped a pass intended for Andrew Quarless near the goal line and linebacker David Hawthorne caught it. That led to Cooks’ TD.
Later, Saints coach Sean Payton set up New Orleans’ fourth-down stop by challenging the spot of a reception near the first down marker. Initially ruled a first down, the spot was moved back a yard, then Hawthorne and defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker stuffed Lacy’s run to the right.
Neither team had trouble moving the ball in the first half, but both defenses were largely successful in mitigating the damage on the scoreboard. Each offense got in the end zone only once. Green Bay’s Mason Crosby and New Orleans’ Shayne Graham each kicked three field goals and there were no punts.
Brees hit Kenny Stills for 45-yard completion on New Orleans’ opening drive, which ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Cooks, tying it at 7.
Green Bay marched right back down the field thanks to Lacy, who turned a short-pass into a tackle-shedding 67-yard gain to the 3.
However, the Saints responded by stuffing Lacy on his next run, then got a break when veteran linebacker Julius Peppers, inserted as a tight end, dropped a pass in the end zone. Defensive end Cameron Jordan then sacked Rodgers, forcing a field goal.
The Packers tried to steal an extra possession with a surprise onside kick, but the Saints’ Ramon Humber got the ball first and diverted it out of bounds at the Green Bay 46. New Orleans drove inside the 10, only to settle for a tying field goal after Peppers’ third-down sack of Brees.
Green Bay had a 16-13 lead on Crosby’s 27-yard field goal with 1:51 left in the second quarter, but Brees quickly marched the Saints to the 19 before a lack of time forced New Orleans to settle for Graham’s 37-yard field goal to tie it.