GREEN BAY, Wis. – The last time the New Orleans Saints ventured up to Lambeau Field for a key early-season NFC game against the Green Bay Packers, there was hope.
Hope for a division title. Hope for a playoff run. Hope for a Super Bowl.
A season and three weeks later, hope is about the only thing either team can hold onto.
The Saints are 0-3 entering today’s 3:25 p.m. game at Green Bay and grasping onto the thinnest strands of hope. The Packers are 1-2, their string only slightly thicker.
“Oh-and-three sucks,” Saints left guard Ben Grubbs said this week. “I’ve never been 0-3 before. Nobody wants to be 0-3. Now it’s just a matter of having the strong mentality and keeping hope.
“That’s one thing that every man is given, is hope. As long as we have that, anything is possible. So I’m going to keep the faith.”
For both New Orleans and Green Bay, faith lies in quarterbacks that, a season ago, were setting NFL records and battling each other for the league’s player of the year honor.
Aaron Rodgers won it with a 122.5 quarterback rating, passing for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns with just six interceptions while leading the Packers to a 15-1 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Drew Brees wouldn’t have been a bad choice either, breaking Dan Marino’s nearly 30-year-old record by passing for 5,476 yards along with an NFL-high 46 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
“I have a lot of respect for Aaron Rodgers,” Brees said. “I think he’s a tremendous quarterback. I think what he did last year was phenomenal, I mean it was unbelievable.”
Rodgers carries the same regard for Brees, meanwhile.
“He has been one of the elite quarterbacks in the league for the majority of his years starting, especially the last couple he has put up incredible seasons,” Green Bay’s quarterback said. “He’s the kind of guy who can get hot and you just can’t stop him.”
And yet, as successful as both were in 2011, it’s their average play in 2012 that has, in part, played a role in both the Saints and Green Bay fighting for their lives this early in the season.
It’s most apparent in New Orleans. Brees has thrown seven touchdown passes, but he also has five interceptions, of which one was returned for a touchdown. Two other interceptions have effectively killed comeback opportunities for the Saints. Brees’ 77.0 QB rating is the lowest in his Saints career.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t guy into the early-season statistics, instead preferring like any good coach to take the long view.
“I’ve been in this long enough to understand where statistics factor and how much of a sample size you need to put your teeth into it,” McCarthy said. “Week three, compared to week 13, I do have confidence for both Aaron and Drew that it will be different.”
And that gets back to the two teams. With Brees and Rodgers guiding both on the field, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to have thought both teams would be a combined 6-0 or 5-1. Rodgers, at least, did.
“I expected maybe both teams to be 3-0 at this point going in,” he said, before later adding, “They’ve got a lot of pride on that team and a lot of talented players and so do we. It’s going to be one of the better 1-2 against 0-3 matchups you’re going to see.”
For the Saints, the time is now to get off the skid. If not, the hole may be too deep to climb out – only one team has ever made the playoffs after starting a season 0-4.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the season but we’re very close to that point,” Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said. “I think the sense of urgency of everybody in this locker room would be it’s a must win. We can’t let anymore games get away from us.”