The (1-1) New Orleans Saints will be looking to bounce back from a poor performance in their previous loss from last week, when they host their long-time conference rivals from the NFC North Division — the (2-0) Green Bay Packers — in Week #3 of the 2020 NFL Season this coming weekend on NBC Sunday Night Football.
— Sunday Night Football (@SNFonNBC) September 24, 2020
The nationally-televised contest is slated to kick-off for 7:15 p.m. Central time at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and the game will also be broadcast locally on WDSU-TV New Orleans Channel 6.
With that in mind, here are Big Easy Magazine’s 5 “Bold” Predictions for this highly-anticipated match-up. And as always: we’ll count them down first beginning with #5 and then work our way down to #1.
Starting first with….
#5. IN ANOTHER BATTLE OF QUARTERBACK “LIVING LEGENDS”, SAINTS QB DREW BREES AND PACKERS QB AARON RODGERS DUEL TO A ‘DRAW’
Of course much of the focus this Sunday Night will be squarely upon Saints starting 20th year veteran and future Hall-of-Fame QB Drew Brees, who has become the hot topic among many NFL observers and analysts who are under the impression that his age (soon-to-be 42 in January) has led to a physical decline and is the reason for the recent struggles of the team’s offense — especially in this past Monday night’s 34-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Brees has put up numbers stats-wise thus far that are below his normal output (472 passing yards and a completion percentage of 64.7%), and since that loss in Vegas has visibly been annoyed by suggestions that he no longer has the capability to make the throws that he used to in previous years when he was younger. With that being the case, you can bet that the ultra-competitive “living legend” will be out to prove otherwise in Sunday Night’s game against the Packers.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 23, 2020
That said, both he and Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers could be without their respective All-Pro #1 WR’s (Saints WR Michael Thomas, who is nursing a severe high ankle sprain; and Packers WR Davante Adams with a mild hamstring injury), which could potentially limit each quarterback’s effectiveness.
But in this game Sunday night in spite of the possible absences of Thomas and Adams, the two top-rated QB’s will essentially duel to a draw — as Brees passes for 346 yards and 3 TD’s while Rodgers passes for 372 yards and 3 TD passes of his own — in what evolves into a potential “shoot-out” in front of a nation-wide audience watching on from home.
#4. AFTER TWO SUB-PAR TO AVERAGE PERFORMANCES TO START THE SEASON, THE SAINTS D-LINE FINALLY GETS THE PASS RUSH GOING THANKS TO A BREAK-OUT PERFORMANCE BY 2ND YEAR DEFENSIVE END CARL GRANDERSON
The Saints defense has 6 sacks thus far through the first 2 weeks, which is a bit below the expectations that the unit had coming into the season but has been due to what seemingly has been the lack of consistent pressure normally generated by the Saints D-Line. Much of the blame for that lack of pressure has been due to the absence of 3rd year defensive end Marcus Davenport, who has been held out of the team’s first two games with an elbow injury.
Davenport might miss this Sunday night’s contest as well, and with his back-up Trey Hendrickson also possibly out this week with a groin injury, there currently is a slight concern that it could hurt their ability once again this week to generate some much-needed pressure against the “gunslinger” Rodgers, to limit the output of the Packers passing game which has helped Green Bay become the NFL’s #1-ranked offense (505 yards per game) and score over 40 points in both of their wins.
But in Sunday night’s contest, it will be 2nd year defensive end Carl Granderson who will help the Saints D-Line get back on track— as the former University of Wyoming star has a break-out performance — with 2 sacks and a handful of “QB pressures” that helps the unit record a grand total of 5 sacks altogether; and prevents Rodgers from guiding the Packers offense to another 40-plus point output.
#3. LATAVIUS MURRAY HAS A BIG DAY FOR THE SAINTS RUNNING GAME
While Saints starting #1 RB Alvin Kamara and Packers #1 RB Aaron Jones both have big impacts of their own upon this game, it’s actually Saints #2 RB Latavius Murray who comes up with a big-time effort after head coach Sean Payton — who after being embarrassed by the offense’s first two poor performances that has left New Orleans with only the 20th-ranked offense overall thus far — is motivated to “right the ship” and in this game on Sunday night, decides to commit more play-calls to the team’s running game.
Through the first 2 weeks of the season, New Orleans has ran the ball a total of 53 times for 194 rushing yards (an average of 97 yards per game so far); a stat that which while it’s not the worst in the League, is well below the number that the Black and Gold could benefit from so that opposing defenses aren’t allowed to focus all of their attention upon pressuring Brees and the Saints passing attack.
But in this game Sunday night, Payton has New Orleans run the ball 26 times for a grand total of 177 rushing yards (an impressive 6.8 yards per carry average); a big day for the Saints running game out of which Murray contributes 14 carries for 96 yards (nearly 7 yards per carry) and a TD.
#2. SAINTS WIDE RECEIVER EMMANUEL SANDERS FINDS SWEET REDEMPTION
Saints prized free-agent signee and #2 WR Emmanuel Sanders has been the target of criticism from both analysts as well as some ‘Who Dat’ fans this week following last Monday Night’s loss, due to an abysmal performance in which he was held to one single catch for 18 yards.
That one catch came in “garbage time” near the very end of the game as he was targeted a total of only 4 times on pass attempts from Brees; and Sanders also was flagged for a penalty on an illegal blind-side block against a Raiders defender that wiped out a Saints 1st Down and killed a potential scoring drive.
The drop off from Michael Thomas to Emmanuel Sanders as No. 1 WR is significantly greater than last year’s drop off from Brees to Bridgewater.
— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) September 22, 2020
We’re all at home scared of COVID but Emmanuel Sanders went on a whole trip to Vegas without catching anything
— SMTTT (@angrywhodat) September 22, 2020
Asked Drew Brees about what hasn’t clicked between him and Emmanuel Sanders, and he said they haven’t had many opportunities. Tried to dial up a couple shot plays that weren’t there. But he said he’s confident that’ll come
— Luke Johnson (@ByLukeJohnson) September 23, 2020
But that performance aside, Brees in an interview with the media reiterated that he remains confident that he and the 11th year veteran wide receiver will eventually get things going; and to that point it will lead to some sweet redemption for Sanders this Sunday Night — as the former Southern Methodist University star catches 6 passes for 122 yards and 2 TD receptions — in what easily will be his best performance as a member of the Black and Gold thus far.
#1. AS THE GAME HEADS INTO THE 4TH QUARTER WITH THE SCORE TIED AT 24-24, THE “UNBELIEVABLE” HAPPENS….
The score between the two teams is tied at 24-24 apiece as the game enters into the 4th Quarter, and with just slightly less than 5 minutes remaining, the Saints take a 31-24 lead on the 2nd TD connection of the night between Brees and Sanders; which comes on a “flea-flicker” trick play that goes for a 42-yard reception by the Saints #2 WR.
After the Saints defense forces a 3-and-out possession and a Packers punt on Green Bay’s next ensuing offensive series, New Orleans gets the ball back and while they eat up the majority of the remaining time on the game-clock, a Brees incompletion on a 3rd Down pass attempt allows the Packers to get one “last gasp”; as they get the ball on their own 22-yard line but with less than a minute (55 seconds to be exact) left to play.
That’s when suddenly, the “unbelievable” happens.
The Saints through their first two games have accumulated 16 penalties for 248 yards, which makes them the most-penalized team yardage-wise in the entire NFL. Most of those yards have come on defensive holding or pass interference penalties committed by the Saints secondary, and that fact will raise its ugly head once again in this contest at the most inopportune time.
Facing a 4th Down-and-10 yards to go on what presumably will be the last play of the game if the Packers are unable to convert, Rodgers drops back and essentially throws a “Hail Mary” pass as far as he can down the right sideline; which falls short of hitting Packers #2 WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling,
But lo and behold: a flag has been thrown by the NFL referee back-judge for pass interference by Saints free safety Marcus Williams — and although the call is questionable after the replay is shown on TV — it still gives Green Bay an automatic 1st Down at the Saints 35=yard line but with only 11 seconds remaining on the game clock.
On the VERY NEXT PLAY, Rodgers rolls out to his right and looks off the Saints secondary before firing a PERFECT STRIKE to a wide-open Packers #3 WR Allen Lazard on a blown coverage, and Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby‘s extra point ties the score once again at 31-31 apiece as the game heads into overtime, while a stunned ‘Who Dat Nation’ watches on from their TV’s in living rooms across America.
But fortunately for the Saints, they are able to successfully stop the Packers offense after Green Bay wins the coin-toss to begin overtime. The Saints get the ball back on a Packers punt, which kick returner Deonte Harris returns 26 yards to the Green Bay 43-yard line.
The Saints then run three straight running plays, and on 4th Down-and-2 at the Green Bay 35-yard line — kicker Wil Lutz‘s 52-yard field goal attempt splits the uprights of the goal post — as New Orleans escapes with a narrow victory to improve their overall win-loss record to (2-1) overall…..
FINAL SCORE: SAINTS 34, PACKERS 31 (OVERTIME)
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius