New Orleans Saints acting head coach Aaron Kromer. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, September 28, 2012 8:50 PM
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Talk about a grudge match.
The New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers have one thing in common going into Sunday's game at Lambeau Field: Members of both teams feel they've recently been wronged by the NFL, and haven't been shy about speaking out.
The Saints (0-3) are struggling in the wake of league-issued punishments for their bounty scandal in the offseason, while the Packers (1-2) still are seething about a blown call by the NFL's replacement officials that cost them a game at Seattle on Monday night. The regular officials are returning after striking a deal with the league, but resentment remains for the Packers.
"I'm for any kind of emotion as long as it's channeled properly," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "So, if you want to talk about chips on your shoulder, whatever. The only emotion I don't care about is self-pity. We're not the victim. Nothing is guaranteed to you. The game of football is not perfect."
Venting about those issues and using them as motivation is one thing. Using them as an excuse is another, and both teams have problems that go beyond any resentment they might harbor toward the league. Saints quarterback Drew Brees acknowledges that teams must balance using external slights as motivation with the idea of simply moving on.
"When something happens that you really feel like is out of your control, it's hard not to want to get angry," Brees said. "And you drive yourself nuts doing that. But in the end, you really just need to be able to compartmentalize it and truly just worry about the things you can control. For us, despite what's happened this offseason and the circumstances that we've been put under, all we can worry about is the guys that we do have in the locker room, as coaches and players, the scheme that we're running, trusting in, trusting in our preparation, and then going out there and finding a way to go win games."
That hasn't happened yet.
The Saints are winless, struggling in transition to a new scheme on defense and out of synch on offense. It's not clear how much of that can be traced to an offseason filled with turmoil, or suspensions issued to coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach and linebackers coach Joe Vitt.
That's a huge loss of leadership, but interim coach Aaron Kromer said the Saints are trying not to focus on those challenges.
"We've ignored them," Kromer said. "We've done the best job we can of keeping the main thing the main thing, and so we don't talk about our challenges. We just keep moving on and talk about what we need to do to win a football game and be better individually and as a team.
On defense, the Saints have largely left their blitz-happy ways behind during a transition to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Through three games, they're giving up an eye-popping 215 yards rushing per game, most in the league.
And the Saints' offense hasn't lived up to expectations from last season, getting inconsistent play from their receivers. Still, Brees has a touchdown pass in 46 straight regular season games and could tie Johnny Unitas' record of 47 on Sunday.
Saints guard Jahri Evans acknowledges that both teams' resentment toward the league makes for an interesting storyline.
"If you look at it from that standpoint, yeah," Evans said. "I think it's going to be a very interesting game this week and we're going to see two dominant teams playing like they're used to playing and it's going to be fun. I think that we're going to be in the mode like, 'Hey, we need to get a win.' And those guys are going to be in the mode like, 'Hey, we just got robbed last week.' But hopefully they're upset and it (negatively) affects the way they play."
The Packers are playing better on defense than they did last year — they are allowing an NFL-best 125.3 yards passing per game and are tied for second in the league with 12 sacks through three games — but are trying to figure out why their typically high-octane offense also has been sputtering.
Green Bay has only four offensive touchdowns all season, and the Seahawks sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times on Monday.
"We've got to find our identity a little, quickly here this week, and start to get back to the way we're used to playing," Rodgers said.
McCarthy would rather have his team focus on its own issues than Monday's refereeing debacle.
"Our experience the last couple of days has been different, unique," McCarthy said. "You can't deny that or throw it off to the side. I think it would be foolish. As far as my comments and my direction with the team it's the same as it always is. They know exactly how I feel about everything that has happened and everything about the path forward that we're taking. So, I feel like we're all on the same page and we're worried about one thing and that's New Orleans."
Brees doesn't expect the Packers to be distracted.
"I hope so, but no," Brees said. "I doubt it. They're a great organization. They're extremely well-coached. They're used to success so they know how to handle tough situations. I'm sure that's been talked about and addressed just like we're doing it in our own way here underneath the circumstances that we're in."