GREEN BAY — Not that it mattered — unless, of course, you consider how ugly it might’ve gotten without them — but at least the Green Bay Packers offense got tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga back Sunday.
Their return wasn’t enough to ignite the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers-less offense in the team’s 26-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints, but with a bye week in front of them, the offensive line’s bookends should be as healthy as they’ve been all year for the season’s final nine games.
Of course, just being back in the lineup wasn’t enough for Bulaga or Bakhtiari, who were both disappointed in the offense’s lack of productivity. While the Packers ran for 181 yards, backup quarterback Brett Hundley completed just 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards with an interception (39.9 rating).
“Up front we need to do a better job. I’ll only speak for us. We need to do better,” Bulaga said.
Added Bakhtiari: “I think we just need to play Packer football, and that’s just executing. Whenever called upon — whether it’s run or pass, it doesn’t matter — we just need to make sure that we execute and get a positive gain and keep the chains moving. I’m a firm believer in winning the down. Don’t think about the game. Just win the down and the game will take care of itself.”
Bakhtiari, who injured his hamstring in the season opener against Seattle and missed the next four games, returned to action last week at Minnesota but left the game when he started having problems with the hamstring. Bulaga, whose training camp ankle injury forced him to miss all or parts of the first four games, returned to full-time duty at Dallas on Oct. 8 but left last week’s loss to the Vikings with a concussion.
Even with Bulaga and Bakhtiari back, though, the Packers still used their seventh starting lineup on the line in seven games, having to start versatile backup Justin McCray at left guard in place of an injured Lane Taylor (ankle).
“We want to be productive. We want to be able to run it, throw it and stay on the field,” Bulaga said. “I thought we were on and off a few times too quickly. We just have to be better overall.
“I thought we ran the ball really well. I thought it was a good day doing that. But at the same time we need to be just as productive in the pass game as well. Up front we need to protect better. It’s a group effort in the pass game. Everybody’s got a role in it. As a unit, we need to step up and do our part.”
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They didn’t lead to points, but the Packers’ oft-criticized defense came up with a pair of takeaways in the first quarter, with cornerback Damarious Randall and Davon House each intercepting Saints quarterback Drew Brees as the Packers built a 14-7 halftime lead.
For Randall, who was benched during the second half of the Week 4 win over Chicago and sent to the locker room after pouting on the bench, it marked the third straight week with an interception. Randall said at midweek that he’s tried to focus on doing his job while not worrying about whether he needed to redeem himself in the eyes of his teammates or fans.
“Everybody here knew that I was a playmaker. It’s just about finding a way to get the ball. That’s something I’m accustomed to doing,” said Randall, whose interception came in the end zone when he trailed wide receiver Brandon Coleman and played Brees’ underthrown ball. “I’m looking forward to keeping them coming.
“When you’re in the right place at the right time, things happen. Whenever you’re doing your job, good things happen.”
House’s pick also kept points off the board. After a 40-yard Brees-to-Ted Ginn completion had the Saints deep in Packers territory, House made a terrific play, extending to grab a pass intended for Michael Thomas on the sideline. House, who has been in and out of the lineup because of a quadriceps injury, missed some time Sunday after getting the wind knocked out of him on a hit by teammate Kentrell Brice but was able to return.
“You know when you’re going against players like that, it’s an opportunity for you to make a play. Not too many people do,” House said. “Those plays right there, some people are surprised. But I’m not. This is what I do. Even in the games I played, I’ve been having good coverage. Teams just haven’t been throwing the ball at me in those situations. Drew must have trusted his receiver to come down with it. Luckily, it was me.”
The Packers offense went three-and-out after each of the interceptions, however, much to coach Mike McCarthy’s frustration. Each time, the Packers failed to convert a third-and-1, with Hundley throwing an incomplete pass on the first and Ty Montgomery losing 3 yards on the second.
“Third down was kind of our Achilles’ heel on offense all day,” McCarthy lamented. “The first quarter, we had the two big takeaways by our defense, excellent plays by both Damarious Randall and Davon House, and had two short-yardage ones that we didn’t convert.”
Oregon High School athletic director Mike Carr, a University of Wisconsin alum and Columbus native, was the line judge on referee Jerome Boger’s crew. Carr, in his first year as an NFL official, had been a Big Ten Conference official before this. … The only injury reported after the game was the migraine headache that sidelined inside linebacker Jake Ryan. … With the bye week, the Packers players will report to work Monday but be off the remainder of the week. “You never want to take a bye week after a loss. It’s always difficult,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I know it’s a time to regroup, but you can do that when you win, too. It is what it is. We need to get healthy, we need to play better and we’ll do just that.”