NEW ORLEANS — Aaron Rodgers slowly walked out of the visiting team's interview area at the Superdome late Sunday night, an ever-so-slight limp punctuating his normal gait.
The quarterback tweaked his left hamstring in the third quarter, which — along with a defense that couldn't stop Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense — played a part in Green Bay's 44-23 loss to the Saints.
"It definitely affected him," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. "We kept him in the (shotgun). Didn't really get into the play-action game. Obviously, scratched off all the quarterback movements. He was limited just to play from the pocket and hand the ball off."
Rodgers, who threw his first two interceptions since the season opener, still finished 28 of 39 for 418 yards and a touchdown and ran for a 14-yard score after the injury. He said there really wasn't an option of him leaving the game as long as he could hold up.
The Packers (5-3) had their winning streak end at four games. They converted only one of seven third downs — a 70-yard scoring pass to Randall Cobb on their first possession.
The game changed in the third quarter after Rodgers' injury, which came on a seven-yard scramble to the New Orleans 13. Three plays later, Saints cornerback Corey White tipped a pass intended for Andrew Quarless near the goal line and linebacker David Hawthorne caught it.
The Saints (3-4) turned the interception into a quick four-play, 88-yard drive that ended with rookie receiver Brandin Cooks' 50-yard touchdown and a 23-16 New Orleans lead.
"That's a 14-point swing," McCarthy said. "He catches the ball and we score seven. They obviously converted that turnover into a touchdown. So, obviously it was a big play."
It was the third consecutive series inside New Orleans' 15 that didn't end in a touchdown. The prior two drives ended in Mason Crosby field goals.
"We had three field goals and a turnover in the red zone, a turnover on their side of the field," Rodgers said. "Uncharacteristic of our team and myself. Just taking points off the board is tough."
Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who grew up in the New Orleans area, had 181 yards from scrimmage — including 123 yards on eight catches — but was stopped on fourth-and-short in Green Bay territory on the ensuing series. The Saints extended their lead to 30-16 soon after on Jimmy Graham's 22-yard catch from Brees.
Green Bay's defense didn't help. For the second time this season, the Packers didn't force a punt. Brees finished 27 of 32 for 311 yards and three touchdowns. New Orleans running back Mark Ingram finished with a career-best 172 yards on the ground, capped by a 21-yard game-sealing touchdown on the drive after Rodgers' scoring scamper.
"All we talked about all week long is just coming together as a team and playing a complete game as a team," said Brees, whose late interception was part of a collapse in Detroit a week earlier. "It was a perfect representation of that.
"Tonight we struggled a little bit in all areas, stopping the run mainly," linebacker Julius Peppers said. "That set up play-action that really hurt us over the top. When you get off balance it sets you back."
Neither team had trouble moving the ball in the first half, but both defenses were largely successful in mitigating the damage on the scoreboard. Green Bay's Crosby and New Orleans' Shayne Graham each kicked three field goals, and it was tied at 16 at halftime.
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