September 17, 2010

1989: Packers Come From Behind to Defeat Saints

The Green Bay Packers had not been over .500 in the six consecutive seasons prior to 1989, and that had been in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign. In their first year under Head Coach Lindy Infante in ’88, they had gone 4-12. The club had signed 20 free agents in the offseason, more than any other team in the NFL. Of the holdovers, WR Sterling Sharpe had led the Packers in pass receiving as a rookie and LB Tim Harris had 13.5 sacks and led the team in tackles.

The Packers lost their opening game in ’89 to Tampa Bay and on September 17 hosted the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field. After years of underachieving, New Orleans had gone to the postseason for the first time in 1987 under Head Coach Jim Mora and followed up with a 10-6 record in ’88. They missed the playoffs, but it was still a respectable showing for a club that had not posted a winning record in its first 20 seasons.

The Saints took control from the start, scoring on their first three possessions. After receiving the opening kickoff, they drove 77 yards in eight plays with QB Bobby Hebert throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to WR Lonzell Hill. The Packers went three-and-out and the Saints took eight plays to score again, in a 56-yard possession that was highlighted by a 15-yard pass from Hebert to WR Floyd Turner and 21-yard carry by RB Dalton Hilliard. Hilliard capped the drive with a three-yard TD run. Packers QB Don Majkowski (pictured above) tossed an interception to end the next possession shortly before the conclusion of the first quarter, which finished with New Orleans ahead by 14-0.

Two plays into the second quarter, the Saints extended their lead to 21-0 when Hebert tossed a one-yard touchdown pass to TE Hoby Brenner. After an exchange of punts, Green Bay finally got on the board. Majkowski threw passes of 11 yards to WR Perry Kemp and 20 yards to TE Ed West and RB Brent Fullwood ran in for a TD from a yard out. But New Orleans managed one more drive prior to the end of the half that culminated in a 38-yard Morten Andersen field goal and the Saints took a 24-7 lead into halftime.

The Packers began to climb out of the hole with their first possession in the third quarter. Majkowski completed all seven of his passes in a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Fullwood scoring his second touchdown of the game on a four-yard run. After New Orleans went three-and-out in its possession and punted, Majkowski completed five more passes in a six-play drive with West hauling in a three-yard touchdown catch. Green Bay was now only down by three points, 24-21.

The Saints weren’t done yet, however, as Hebert led them on a six-play possession of their own that included passes of 13 and 28 yards to WR Eric Martin and concluded early in the fourth quarter with a 24-yard scoring throw to Hill. The Packers responded with yet another scoring possession, going 78 yards in five plays as West caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Majkowski. It was again a three-point game at 31-28.

New Orleans came back with a long, 12-play possession that ran more than eight minutes off the clock and resulted in a 32-yard Andersen field goal. Green Bay struck quickly when they got the ball back with Majkowski passing to WR Jeff Query
(pictured at right) for a 35-yard gain to the Saints’ 45 yard line. But three plays later they faced a fourth-and-17 situation with under two minutes remaining to play. Majkowski again went to Query along the sideline, and the resulting 23-yard gain kept the drive alive. It ended with Majkowski throwing a three-yard touchdown pass to Sharpe, and with the successful extra point, Green Bay took the lead at 35-34 with 1:31 left on the clock.

The one-point margin held up when Hebert immediately went to the air and his long pass was intercepted by CB Van Jakes; Green Bay was able to run out the clock.

The Packers accumulated 490 total yards in their comeback victory to 367 for New Orleans. Don Majkowski completed 25 of 32 passes for 354 yards with three TDs and an interception. There were plenty of pass receiving stars as Sterling Sharpe (pictured at left) caught 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, Ed West contributed 6 receptions for 87 yards and two scores, and Jeff Query made four catches for 84 yards, including the big plays in the final drive. Brent Fullwood also had a notable game rushing, gaining 125 yards on 18 carries with two TDs.

In defeat, Bobby Hebert tossed 32 passes, completed 23 of them for 282 yards and, like his Green Bay counterpart, with three touchdowns and one picked off. Lonzell Hill had 6 pass receptions for 90 yards and two TDs. However, the Saints didn’t gain as much on the ground, as Dalton Hilliard led the club with 43 yards on 13 attempts with a score.

It was the first sign of rejuvenation for the Packers, who ended up going 10-6 and finishing second (due to tiebreakers) in the NFC Central. They just missed the postseason. Meanwhile, New Orleans fell to a disappointing 9-7 and third place in the NFC West.

Don Majkowski had easily the best season of his career. He led the league in pass attempts (599), completions (353), and yards (4318) while firing 27 touchdown passes (third in the NFL) against 20 interceptions. The third-year quarterback out of Virginia was named to the Pro Bowl and received second-team All-NFL recognition from the Associated Press.

Sterling Sharpe led the NFL with 90 pass receptions and ranked second with 1423 yards and 12 touchdowns. He received All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition, but unlike Majkowski there were better years ahead.

The Packers would regress to being a losing club again in 1990 and ’91, Infante’s last year as head coach. It would take the arrival of Infante’s successor, Mike Holmgren, and a young quarterback named Brett Favre in 1992 before Green Bay would begin to win again with consistency.