The Green Bay Packers offense scored 42 points, but it was the defense that won the game, making two huge second half stands against the high-powered New Orleans Saints offense to come away with an opening night win Thursday.
With the hype, the concerts, 70,555 fans watching in the stadium and the television lights in full blare throughout the day, the expected distractions didn’t bother the Packers who just a few short months ago were under the microscope of the Super Bowl.
Playing the 2009 Super Bowl winners led by the indefatigable Drew Brees, the Packers had all they could handle and scored just enough to come away with the win.
From the opening kick-off when the Packers moved the ball down the field like a hot knife through butter to score the game’s and season’s first points, all the way through to the game’s final play executed with no time left on the clock, the fans of both teams got their money’s worth.
Rodgers threw his first of three touchdowns on the night on a back shoulder pass to one of his favorite receivers, Gregg Jennings, in the left corner of the end zone to give the Packers a 7-0 lead.
That was shortlived, however, as on the Saints’ ensuing possession, Nick Collins forced a fumble on the team’s second play.
Rodgers wasted little time, hitting Jordy Nelson on a three-yard pass to make it 14-0.
However, every fan in Lambeau Field, the state of Wisconsin and the nation knew this game was far from over – not with Drew Brees in the house.
The 2009 Super Bowl MVP methodically led the Saints down the field and capped it with a 31-yard TD pass to Robert Meacham with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
Rodgers and the Packers offense went back to work, this time capping another impressive drive when rookie Randall Cobb got into the action. He caught a pass over the middle and then scampered 32 yards for his first pro touchdown, diving into the end zone, ala Charles Woodson, for dramatic effect.
Keep that name in mind because his name will again be mentioned here …
After New Orleans got a 30-yard field goal from the ancient one, John Kasay, they stopped the Packers on their ensuing possession and Darren Sproles, the exciting scatback who came over from San Diego in the offseason, took Tim Masthay’s punt and punched it up the middle of the field and into the Packers gut for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Not to be outdone, the Packers used ball control on their next possession and scored when James Starks ran 17 yards up the middle, breaking tackles and twisting toward the end zone for a touchdown and a 28-17 Packers halftime lead
In the first half, the Packers racked up 276 yards in the first half and dominated ball possession nearly two-to-one.
That changed quickly in the second half when the Saints pounded and passed the ball past the Packers and scored another Kasay field goal, this one a 38-yarder, to cut the deficit to 28-20.
But then early fireworks hit Lambeau in the form of rookie Cobb.
He took the ensuing kick-off 108 yards up the left sideline, spinning out of a tackle, getting a lift from fullback John Kuhn and speeding past his blockers and all pursuit for the dramatic touchdown. The TD gave the Packers a comfortable 35-20 lead, but maybe they got too comfortable.
About Cobb’s return, McCarthy said that he wasn’t really excited or even pulling for Cobb when he decided to bring out the kickoff from eight yards deep in the end zone.
“Thank God he can’t hear what I’m saying on the headsets … but it was an incredible return … when you look at it, it probably didn’t fall into the category [to bring it out].”
But McCarthy was also lifting up the rookie’s play on the night by saying, “I’m ecxited about Randall … he has a chance to be special … he’s raw, but is a gifted young man with a lot of football ahead of him.”
Less than two minutes later, the Saints hit paydirt again when Brees hit Devery Henderson for a 29-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 35-27.
But in dramatic fashion, the Packers scored on a one-yard touchdown run by Kuhn to up the lead to 42-27. His run capped a 93-yard drive after the defense held on a fourth and one from the seven yard line – the first of two impressive stands by the Packers defense in the second half.
McCarthy understood what he was seeing on the field from both teams and while he was disappointed his team gave up 34 points, he was also impressed with what he saw.
“These are two very good offensive teams going at it out there tonight. The quality of play needs to be improve upon.”
With the clock ticking down inside five minutes, the Saints again moved the ball against the Packers soft defense, scoring once more to bring them to within eight points at 42-35.
Though the Packers, and Donald Driver of all players, recovered an attempted onside kick by the Saints, the New Orleans defense stopped a predictable Packers drive three and out and forced a punt.
Jarrett Bush’s feet were ruled in the end zone on a beautiful coverage play on the ensuing punt and the Saints started their final drive at the 20 instead on the one-yard line.
Brees again sliced through the Packers defense, using the sidelines and the clock to perfection and moving the team down the field without a timeout. With three seconds left, the Saints were poised to score from inside the 10 yard line – facing a fourth and goal.
Brees’s pass into the end zone was seemingly played well by linebacker A.J. Hawk, but he was flagged with a questionable pass interference and the Saints were granted one more play from the one yard line.
Again the Packers defense came up big when the defensive line collapsed the point of attack and Mark Ingram was swallowed up short of the goal line as the game ended.
Asked after the game what this win means, Rodgers was his humble self, saying, “It
means we’re 1-0 and we’re moving on.”
Rodgers was 27-35 for 312 yards and three touchdowns, but even better was Brees who was 32 of 49 for 419 yards and three touchdowns.
Though the Packers were gouged for big plays by Brees and the Saints’ offense, they also came up with the two huge defensive stops – the difference in the shootout.
Starks and Ryan Grant combined for 97 yards on 21 carries, while John Kuhn added five yards and Rodgers one on the road.
The Saints had similar numbers, getting 40 yards from rookie Mark Ingram and 31 from Pierre Thomas.
On kickoffs, the Saints had 3 for 83 yards, while the Packers had two for 135 yards, gaudy numbers considering the new kick-off rules.
The only turnover in the game was the fumble by the Saints. There were no interceptions, despite the fact that combined, the two teams aired it out 84 times.
Jennings had seven receptions for 89 yards, Nelson had six for 77, Jermichael Finley had three for 53, driver had four for 41, and Cobb had two for 35.
Driver needed 42 yards to break the all-time yardage record of James Lofton, but fell one yard short. He ended the night tied with Lofton and most likely will break the record on the road next week at Carolina.
The Packers enter the second week with their game on the road, while the Saints attempt to get into the win column when they travel to Chicago.
Topics: Aaron Rodgers, B.J. Raji, Chad Clifton, Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews, Detroit Lions, Dom Capers, Donald Driver, Green Bay Packers, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Mike McCarthy, New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFL, Nick Collins, Ryan Grant, Ted Thompson, Tramon Williams, Winning Isn't Everything, It's The Only Thing