2011 September : Packers Insider

Rodgers makes rubbish of rustiness talk

September 10, 2011 by  
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By Michael Silver, Yahoo Sports

~GREEN BAY, Wis. – He had delivered his message with chilling precision, giving all of Lambeau Field the golden-armed celebration it never got to experience last January and the back of his hand to the rest of the football world.

If given time to pass, Rodgers will carve up any defense like a surgeon.

Yes, actions spoke louder than words for Aaron Rodgers in the first game of the 2011 season, and his first as a Super Bowl champion. But that didn’t stop the ultra-confident quarterback from talking a little smack, if only because he could.

Not long after the Packers’ 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, Rodgers and I had a short conversation at his locker. After a 27-for-35, 312-yard, three-touchdown, no-interception performance in which he looked like simply the best passer on the planet, Rodgers had one more strong-armed delivery in his arsenal.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a month,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about winning this game, and what I was gonna say afterward. Cause I’ve got a little something. For everyone.”

By everyone, Rodgers meant the fans, media members and current and former NFL players who had chastised the Packers during the lockout for failing to stage players-only workouts. The Pack would supposedly pay a price for their impudence in the form of rustiness, lack of fluidity and general imprecision while rivals whose players worked out together would open the season with a distinct advantage.

Given that theory, no team seemed better poised to benefit than the Saints, whose leader, quarterback Drew Brees(notes), held numerous de facto minicamps and even covered some of his teammates’ expenses in the process.

The storyline – prepared Saints, passive Packers – gained traction in the days leading up to Thursday’s game. Then Thomas Morstead(notes) kicked off, and Rodgers made New Orleans pay.

Zip, a nine-yard pass to Greg Jennings(notes) in the flat. Zing, a 16-yard spiral to Donald Driver(notes) on third-and-12. Whoosh, a glorious 36-yard floater to Jordy Nelson(notes) down the left sideline. Score: A seven-yard, back-shoulder beauty to Jennings for the first touchdown of 2011.

By the end of the first quarter, Rodgers had completed 14 of 15 passes – and the lone incompletion was a throwaway. He’d thrown for 188 yards and three touchdowns and had the Packers ahead 21-7, and he looked as sharp and commanding as Peyton Manning(notes) in his prime.

On a day in which Manning underwent neck surgery that could force the future Hall of Fame quarterback to miss the entire 2011 season – and, some doctors have speculated, might be career-threatening – Rodgers did nothing to ease the sidelined Colts star’s pain.

After all, Manning has long extolled the virtues of offseason workouts, telling me less than a year ago that they are “how we’ve gotten our edge over the years.”

I’m sure he’d have enjoyed the sight of Rodgers, as promised, laying waste to that presumption at his postgame press conference, answering the first question (about his fast start against the Saints) by busting out a heavy dose of sarcasm: “I’ve just got to ask myself, ‘What would have happened if we had offseason workouts? Could we have started any faster and scored more points tonight?’ “

By the end of the first quarter, Rodgers had completed 14 of 15 passes – the lone incompletion was a throwaway, and he’d thrown for 188 yards and three touchdowns.
(AP Photo)

Just to make sure his intentions were clear, Rodgers twice revisited the subject in similarly facetious fashion. When he walked back into the locker room to grab his stuff before heading out into the Wisconsin night, I asked him if, at any point over the offseason, he’d thought about getting his teammates together for a few days of workouts, if only to quiet the chorus of critics.

“Yes,” he said. “And that would have been the only reason.”

Rodgers said he spoke to veteran cornerback Charles Woodson(notes) at the team’s Super Bowl ring ceremony in June and “asked him if he wanted to get the guys together. He said he talked to his guys and they were doing what they needed to do to get ready. And that was that.”

Said Woodson: “We asked each other, ‘Do we feel like we need to do it.’ And we both said no. We feel like we’ve got great guys in this locker room who would be ready when the time came. We showed up at training camp focused and never missed a beat.”

While Woodson certainly wasn’t gloating about his unit’s performance – Brees shredded the Green Bay secondary for 419 yards and three touchdowns, and the game ended with rookie halfback Mark Ingram(notes) a foot or two away from a potential overtime-triggering score – he was pointed in his defense of his and Rodgers’ approach.

“We felt like a lot of guys [on other teams] did it just for the show,” he said. “We weren’t into that. If we’d done it, it’d be like [critics] pushed us into it.”

This was, of course, merely the first arm-wrestle of a long succession of step-to sessions. As the Saints learned last year in attempting to defend their championship, an auspicious beginning) (against Brett Favre(notes), another quarterback who wasn’t especially big on the import of offseason preparation) doesn’t necessarily predict a glorious ending.

Yet the Packers, at least for now, seem poised to be even more multi-dimensional on offense than they were during last year’s impressive postseason run, which included three road victories and a Super Bowl triumph over the Steelers.

Rookie receiver and returner Randall Cobb was electric in the limited times he was involved in a play.
(Getty Images)

For one thing, they had a lot of season-ending injuries in 2010, and the return of potential impact players like halfback Ryan Grant(notes) (nine carries, 40 yards) and tight end Jermichael Finley(notes) (three catches, 53 yards) is not inconsequential. Additional punch came from Kentucky wideout Randall (Don’t Call Me Tex) Cobb, who scored a pair of scintillating touchdowns: on a 32-yard catch-and-run late in the first quarter and an NFL-record-tying 108-yard kickoff return (so much for the death of that play via the moving of the tee five yards forward) after the Saints had closed to 28-20 six minutes into the second half.

Then there was the unlikely sight of second-year strong safety Morgan Burnett(notes), who missed most of last season after tearing his ACL in the team’s fourth game, lunging over the pile to help All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews(notes) make a game-saving stop of Ingram on first-and-ballgame from the Green Bay 1-yard line.

The play began with no time on the clock after an A.J. Hawk(notes) pass interference penalty in the end zone, and as Rodgers watched it unfold from the sideline, he had no desire to be granted another opportunity to show the world how stupid it was that the Packers’ lack of offseason workouts were an issue.

Said Rodgers: “I thought, ‘Aw, man, don’t let ‘em score.’–”

The Packers didn’t, and 70,555 fans at Lambeau celebrated like it was Super Sunday all over again. Suffice it to say that none of them is likely to question Rodgers’ approach to anything anytime soon.

Full story HERE

Scary thought: Packers are better

September 9, 2011 by  
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By Ed Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — First of all, there was no way the Green Bay Packers were going to lose to the New Orleans Saints on Thursday evening.

Not at Lambeau Field. Not on a night when their 2010 Super Bowl championship sign was unveiled. Not when 70,000-plus Green Bay fans serenaded their team with “Roll Out The Barrel” as the Pack rolled up 42 points and then rolled up Saints rookie running back Mark Ingram at the goal line on the game’s final play.

The defensive stand preserved the Packers’ eight-point win and also sent a chilling reminder to the rest of the league that Green Bay still has a chip on its shoulder pads. You could hear it in Aaron Rodgers’ voice after the game, when he mocked/teased anyone — fans, media, the Twitterati — who questioned the Packers’ lack of player-organized workouts during the lockout.

Against the Saints, Aaron Rodgers repeated his brilliant Super Bowl performance: three TDs, no picks.

“It was a good start for us,” he said, straight-faced. But wait for it …

“I’ve just got to ask myself, ‘What would have happened if we had offseason workouts? Could we have started any faster and scored more points tonight?'”

The answer is no. The Packers scored touchdowns on each of their three first-quarter possessions. They scored in every quarter. For a while there, I thought Green Bay punter Tim Masthay was nothing more than a rumor.

But the Saints recovered in time to make it a game and make the Packers perspire. Together the two teams combined for 76 points and 876 total yards. And had Ingram scored from the 1-yard line and the Saints made a two-point conversion …

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit worried,” said Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji.

Relax. There’s no shame in outscoring Drew Brees’ Saints. The Saints are going to put up forehead-slapping numbers all season. But so are the Packers.

In case you’re wondering whether the Packers are better this season than last, they are. And those concerns about a Super Bowl hangover? Forget it. The Packers must have taken a couple of aspirin and chowed down on some White Castle sliders after they partied in February.

The Packers scored so often and so easily Thursday, they nearly broke a 92-year-old team record for most points in a season opener. The only Packer not to do the Lambeau Leap was Vince Lombardi’s statue. Otherwise, it looked like a high-jump competition.

So efficient were the Packers that the press-box announcer seemed almost stunned when Green Bay didn’t record a first down at will. When a Rodgers pass completion came up short of a first down, the announced called it one anyway. Then, sheepishly, he said, “Excuse me, third-and-2.”

Apology not necessary.

The 2011 version of the Packers is better than the 2010 version because of a rookie wide receiver (Randall Cobb) who somehow lasted until the 64th pick. They’re better because of a backup second-year running back (James Starks) who runs like he’s the starter. They’re better because the starting running back (Ryan Grant) and the matchup-nightmare starting tight end (Jermichael Finley) are both back from injuries.

But as always, the Packers are better because Rodgers has somehow improved from a season ago. He completed a handful of passes Thursday night that defied logic — and the outstretched hands and arms of Saints defenders. His totals: 27 of 35 attempts for 312 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

“He has set the standard, and he’s off to a great start,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

When the Saints blitzed, Rogers picked them apart like meat from a chicken wing. When they didn’t blitz, he stood in the pocket, surveyed the field, thought about offseason workouts, wondered if he’d locked his car, read the latest Grisham novel and then hit nine different receivers for completions. It was surgical.

“A-Rod obviously threw for a zillion yards,” Raji said.

Brees had 419 yards and three scores of his own. But Brees had to work for his. Rodgers made it look like he was throwing against stick figures.

The Packers don’t want to be Super Bowl one-and-dones. They have an offense that will easily surpass their 2010 scoring average of 24.25 points. And yeah, the defense gave up 477 yards and those 34 Saints points, but it also stopped fourth-down attempts at the Green Bay 7 and the Green Bay 1.

And now they have Cobb, whose draft-day selection caused veteran Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings to do a double take.

“I was actually kind of shocked,” Jennings said. “I think Aaron was shocked as well.”

So were the Saints on Thursday night. Cobb’s first official NFL touchdown reception came on a botched route. His second TD came on a kickoff he never should have returned. Just think how good he’ll be when he does what he’s supposed to do.

Ask this year’s Packers whether they can outdo last year’s Packers and the response is unanimous.

“Absolutely,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, one of the first to pop Ingram at the goal line on the final play.

“I think we’re hungry again,” said cornerback Charles Woodson. “I think we will be better.”

The Packers and Saints opened the regular season with a game to remember, and they could end the NFC playoffs with one, too. I picked them to play for the conference championship and I’m not alone.

“I’m quite sure of it,” said Woodson of a New Orleans-Green Bay playoff scenario. “We’ll see them again. … It very well could happen.”

Promise?

Full story HERE

Are the Packers the real “Dream Team”?

September 9, 2011 by  
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By Don Banks, CNN-Sports Illustrated

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — Dispatches from the Packers’ wildly entertaining 42-34 win over the outgunned Saints in Thursday night’s NFL regular-season opener at a celebratory Lambeau Field. (Lockout? What lockout?) …

• You get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, we saw the NFL’s real dream team here Thursday night? The Green Bay Packers certainly couldn’t have scripted their 2011 opener — the night they got to unfurl their Super Bowl title banner — much better than the way this one played out. Especially on offense, which as everyone knows is the key to championships these days in the NFL. To wit:

"You've got to be excited about Randall,'' Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's shown that from the first day of training camp, his ability. When other players talk about a player having a chance to be special, he's one of those guys. He's very raw, but he's picking up our system, and he knows what to do when he gets the football in his hands and how to get open. He's a gifted young man with a lot of good football in front of him.'' Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/don_banks/09/09/packers.saints.insider/index.html#ixzz1XUdxes9O

— The Packers’ 42 points were the most Green Bay has scored in an opener since 1919, the first game in this storied franchise’s history. That one, a 53-0 shutout against the Menominee North End Athletic Club was not televised on NBC or called by Al Michaels, as best we can tell.

— Aaron Rodgers and the powerful Packers’ offense was razor sharp for most of the game, producing four touchdowns on their five meaningful first-half drives, with 276 yards and 16 first downs in the opening 30 minutes. Green Bay was only up 28-17 at the half, but it felt like more because the Saints defense couldn’t stop the Packers and one of New Orleans’ two touchdowns came via special teams on a scintillating 72-yard Darren Sproles punt return.

— Green Bay unveiled a breathtaking new offensive weapon in spectacular fashion. Rookie receiver-return man Randall Cobb caught a 32-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, then followed that up with an NFL-record-tying 108-yard kickoff return that fully announced his playmaking skills. And to think the champs found Cobb sitting there waiting for them at the bottom of the second round (the 64th overall pick).

— The Packers defense certainly gave up its share of ground — the Saints finished with 477 yards of offense and 27 first downs — but stiffened and made the plays that counted in a game Green Bay never trailed. Few were bigger than the pair of stops the Packers turned in with New Orleans facing a third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 7, with the Saints trailing 35-27 and less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter. The game ended on another defensive high note for Green Bay, with linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett combining to stuff Saints rookie running back Mark Ingram from the 1-yard line with no time remaining, preserving the Packers’ victory. In three key red zone possessions in the second half, the Saints scored just three points.

I know, I know, it’s only Week 1. Let’s not coronate anyone after just one of the NFL’s 256 regular-season games have been played. But Green Bay just put on an impressive opening display of offense, defense and special teams, and what else is involved in playing winning football at an elite level? The Packers hit the ground running like champions this season, and they look every bit as improved as advertised. That can’t give the rest of the league much comfort as 2011 continues.

• So much for the theory the Saints would have an edge Thursday night because quarterback Drew Brees organized his team’s players-only practices during the lockout, while the Packers chose instead to do their work individually or in small groups.

Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins set the tone on the Saints first drive, stripping the ball and forcing a fumble. The Packers offense scored again afterwards to go up 14-0 early.

It was kind of a non-story anyway, because most of the teams that got organized were doing it partly as a show of solidarity, perhaps gaining more in terms of public relations than on the football front. But if this game was a referendum on the lockout workout issue, you can’t say the Packers suffered for their lack of activity. And, who knows, maybe the Saints played far better against Green Bay than they would have without the well-attended workouts.

Rodgers was clearly miffed by the offseason workouts issue. He brought it up three times in his postgame news conference, all unbidden, and all in sarcastic fashion.

“It was a good start for us,” Rodgers said of his team’s 42-point showing. “I’ve just got to ask myself, ‘What would have happened if we had offseason workouts? Could we have started any faster and scored more points tonight?’ ”

I can’t blame Rodgers for his sensitivity to the issue. Some of the questions about it were used against him as some sort of measuring stick of his leadership within the Packers locker room. I think it was a more a case of Rodgers knowing his team well, and knowing what it did and didn’t need to do during the lockout. There was no right and wrong in the matter, and Rodgers’ 27-of-35 passing, for 312 yards and three touchdowns (132.1 rating) kind of proved his point.

• I get it that New Orleans drafted Heisman winning running back Mark Ingram in the first round and he enters the league with the reputation for running with power. But Saints head coach Sean Payton deserves a second guess after predictably running Ingram up the middle from the 1-yard line on the game’s final play. The Packers swarmed him and denied the Saints any chance to go for a two-point conversion and send the game into overtime.

Actually, Payton’s call wasn’t all that predictable for him, given his reputation for being one of the most imaginative and daring play-callers in the league. This time, however, he played it safe, and wound up sorry.

“I thought as hot as Drew (Brees) was, they might put it into his hands,” Rodgers said, of the game’s final controversial call. “I’m glad they ran it.”

Ingram had already been stopped on a third-and-1 play from the Packers 7 late in the third quarter, so it’s not as if he had momentum in the short-yardage game before the final play. Anything but an up-the-gut dive play might have made Green Bay’s defense pause just long enough to allow the Saints a real chance to score.

“When we look at the film, we are going to kick ourselves in the butt a couple times with the turnovers and not converting on short-yardage plays,” said Ingram, who finished his first NFL game with team highs of 40 yards rushing and 13 carries (3.1 average). “I think that hurt us. You have to get a yard on the goal line to win the game. I have to get a yard.”

The Saints had their chances late, but Brees knows they let this game get away from them a little at a time. “I think the biggest stat for us that’s disappointing is our red-zone efficiency,” said Brees, who threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns. “We were 1-of-5, scoring touchdowns, in the red zone. You’ve got to cash in there when you’re down there against this team. It’s tough when you do make it all the way down there and you aren’t able to punch it in. It’s kind of mano e mano at that point, and they bowed up and stopped us at the end.”

With some help from timid Payton play-calling, that is.

• Thursday night’s game could have been subtitled “A Star is Born,” because that’s how much “wow” factor Cobb adds to the Packers’ offense. The acceleration he showed on his 32-yard second-quarter touchdown reception was eye-opening, but the former Kentucky Wildcat simply blew folks away with his team-record 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Cobb exploded into the open field after appearing to be all but stopped by Saints tacklers, giving Green Bay its first kickoff return for a touchdown since Allen Rossum took one 92 yards in 2000.

“It was amazing,” said Cobb, of his NFL debut. “The feeling of being at Lambeau Field and coming off a Super Bowl, I was just doing anything I could do to contribute and I was trying to make the most of my opportunities tonight.”

Mission accomplished. The second-round pick is a huge addition to the Green Bay arsenal. I’m not sure how much veteran Packers receiver James Jones is even going to get on the field if Cobb stays healthy and productive. Until tonight, no rookie NFL history had ever had a scoring reception and a kickoff return for a touchdown in his team’s season opener.

“You’ve got to be excited about Randall,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s shown that from the first day of training camp, his ability. When other players talk about a player having a chance to be special, he’s one of those guys. He’s very raw, but he’s picking up our system, and he knows what to do when he gets the football in his hands and how to get open. He’s a gifted young man with a lot of good football in front of him.”

• While we’re on the topic of Cobb, his decision to bring the ball out of the end zone from eight yards deep might end up being a more popular call than many expect this year in the NFL. The new kickoff rules aren’t going to make kickoffs extinct as some have theorized. They’re just going to force teams to gamble more if they want to try to make big plays in the return game. You can’t roll the dice every time, but Cobb showed in the very first game of the season that long returns can still happen, even if eight of the 12 kickoffs on this night went for touchbacks (one kickoff was an onside attempt by the Saints).

• It wasn’t all gloom and doom for the Saints, of course. They did get instant validation that the signing of Darren Sproles to replace the departed Reggie Bush was a masterstroke. And then some.

Sproles produced 204 total yards the first eight times he touched the ball, and finished the game with 250 total yards on 13 touches (seven catches for 75 yards, two rushes for 7 yards, two punt returns for 92 yards, and two kickoff returns for 76 yards). Sproles’ 72-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter got New Orleans back to within 21-17, and he’s clearly more a multifaceted weapon than Bush.

“He’s electric,” said Payton, of his new running back-returner. “He changed (the game) for us. He gave us some momentum with the punt return and he’s one of those guys that makes great decisions in space.”

The two most popular words in New Orleans Thursday night? Reggie who?

• Cobb was the big revelation for the Packers in this game, but don’t overlook how well second-year running back James Starks performed. He led the Packers with 57 yards on 12 carries, with a powerful, tackle-busting 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter (his first career regular-season score). Ryan Grant started the game and finished with 40 yards on nine carries, but the Green Bay veteran seemed like an afterthought in the Packers’ offense after Starks carried the mail on that late second-quarter scoring drive.

Look for Starks to get the big carries at the game’s key moments from here on out. He has looked better and faster than Grant all preseason, and now the Packers have seen him produce when the games count.

• The Packers’ defense got its pride hurt at times, giving up three touchdowns, two field goals, 27 first downs and 477 yards. But I wouldn’t expect the feeling to linger, because after all, it was Brees and the Saints. They’ve done that to a lot of quality defenses.

“It’s not what you envision,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Obviously you’d rather have a blowout. But it represents everything that we preach, just finishing games and them coming down to the very last play. It’s fantastic to get the stop we needed and get off the field (at the end). But that’s too many points allowed. We take pride in how many points we give up, and that’s too many. There’s no excuse for that. But we made the plays when we needed to and came away with the victory.”

• The results continue to indicate that being the home team in the NFL’s kickoff game is a clear-cut advantage. Home teams don’t win 90 percent of the time in the NFL, but they do in this 10-year-old series. The visiting 49ers beat the Giants in 2002’s opener, but since then, the home teams are 9-0. The last eight of those were won by the defending Super Bowl champions, after the league made that a reward of sorts and gave this game to the champs every year starting in 2004.

Full story HERE

Hard to believe, but Rodgers looks even better

September 9, 2011 by  
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By Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – It’s perhaps unwise to make projections based on one game, especially when that game is the season opener.

But throwing caution to the wind, what kind of numbers might Aaron Rodgers put up this season?

Thirty-five touchdown passes? Forty? Four thousand passing yards? Five thousand?

The Packers' Aaron Rodgers gets a pass to Jordy Nelson for a big gain in the opening drive against the Saints on Thursday.

Picking up where he left off seven months ago when he was named most valuable player of Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers completed passes to nine receivers, threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns and led the Green Bay Packers to a 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field on Thursday night.

Rodgers looks to be an improved version of the quarterback who threw for 86 touchdowns and nearly 12,400 yards in his first three seasons as a starter.

For sure, the 27-year-old quarterback has more weapons at his disposal than he did when the Packers swept through the playoffs last year, outscoring their four opponents, 121-76.

Randall Cobb clearly is an upgrade over Brett Swain at the No. 5 receiver, tight end Jermichael Finley is back to create mismatch nightmares and two good running backs – Ryan Grant and James Starks – are always better than one.

But it’s Rodgers who makes the Packers better than the sum of their parts.

Against the Saints, he ran the no-huddle offense to near-perfection, was almost computer-quick with his reads and made every kind of throw with accuracy to all parts of the field: the back shoulder, the deep out, the screen under pressure, the slant.

Other than an overthrow to a wide-open Jordy Nelson down the right sideline that would have gone for a 77-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Rodgers played about as well as a quarterback can play.

And the Packers needed every play he made, because Drew Brees threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns for the Saints.

On a crisp opening drive that might have had defensive coordinators around the league reaching for the Pepto-Bismol, the Packers lined up in the shotgun on eight of nine plays and Rodgers completed all five of his passes for 74 yards.

He finished the drive with a beautiful back-shoulder pass to Greg Jennings in the left corner of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown. That play was almost impossible to defend.

The Packers scored on their first three possessions and by halftime Rodgers had completed 18 of 24 attempts for 227 yards and three touchdowns and had a rating of 143.6.

The Packers largely abandoned the no-huddle in the second half, slowed down the game and ran out of power formations, mostly to work the clock and keep the ball out of Brees’ hands. After throwing 24 passes in the first half, Rodgers attempted only 11 in the second.

Rodgers went into the season ranked No. 1 in NFL history with a 97.2 career rating. He also ranked No. 1 with a career interception percentage of 2.0.

Since he took over as the starter in 2008, he ranks fourth in passing yards and touchdown passes, second in yards per attempt and first in pass completions of 25 or more yards.

He left the distinct impression Thursday night that he has improved incrementally in all facets of his game and that if Green Bay needs to win a shootout, he is more than up to the task.

Granted, it’s a long season and the Packers are bound to have to overcome, at one point or another, injuries, challenging defensive schemes and unlucky bounces.

With Rodgers under center, however, the Packers should never be out of a game. That’s a projection, too, but who could argue?

Packers offense in sync right out of the gate

September 9, 2011 by  
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By Brian E Murphy, Packers Insider Senior Editor

~Jermichael Finley was back. Electric rookie Randall Cobb was making his debut. Jennings, Driver, Jordy, and Jones were all back. So was Ryan Grant.

And in charge of them all was Aaron Rodgers.

Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers gives rookie Randall Cobb a pat on the head after the Packers beat the Saints Thursday.

The results? Fireworks on the scoreboard, and a thrilling 42-34 kickoff opening win. Will Rodgers still have to answer questions about why he didn’t organize off-season workouts like Drew Brees and Tony Romo did?

Rodgers on that: “It was a good start for us. I’ve just got to ask myself, ‘What would have happened if we had off-season workouts? Could we have started any faster and scored more points tonight?'”

Finley made some plays early. Jennings and Nelson made plays all night long. Driver made a few, including recovering the onside kick. Driver also absorbed a vicious blow on a pass over the middle. But the veteran bounced back up, fortunately.

Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings takes a moment to pray and thank God following his opening-drive touchdown on Thursday night. The Packers would jump out 7-0, and never trailed afterwards.

Jordy Nelson continued his hot play from the Super Bowl with another big game, including a touchdown in the opening quarter. He wasn’t worried about the lack of unorganized workouts in the off-season.  “A lot of people were worried about those off-season workouts we didn’t do but apparently we were alright. We put our time in and worked hard this training camp. A lot of core coming back from the Super Bowl helps. We came in, grinded and got ready to play this opening week.”

As if the return of Grant and Finley weren’t enough, the Packers received a huge spark from the little rookie, second round pick Randall “Tex” Cobb. He took a short pass and made people miss, heading into the end zone for his first Lambeau Leap. It was Rodgers’ third touchdown pass of the opening quarter.

Later, Cobb took a kickoff eight yards deep into the end zone, and took it 108 yards for a spectacular touchdown return. The pundits and experts apparently were right about that pick being a great one for the Packers. As long as Cobb stays healthy, he’s going to give the Packers an added dimension that they really didn’t even need. But they’ll take it.

Randall Cobb runs back a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Left guard T.J. Lang committed a pair of early penalties, but his blocking appeared to be an improvement over Daryn Colledge. The Packers had success on short yardage situations, both with John Kuhn and James Starks.

The only mystery is what has happened to James Jones. He didn’t have any action at all except a very late screen pass, in which he was able to get about a yard and a half on.

All in all, opposing defenses have to be worried because the Saints, with Gregg Williams, are not a bad defense.

And the world saw them carved up like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Can the Packers sustain that type of play, and put up similar yards and points as the 1998 Vikings, 1999 Rams, and 2007 Patriots?
Stay tuned.

Packers have right stuff in Thrilling Opening Victory

September 9, 2011 by  
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By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – The previous 11 Super Bowl champions won their first game in the following season.

Now make that 12 after the Green Bay Packers, leading from start to finish, held on to defeat the New Orleans Saints, 42-34, in a wing-dinger of a beginning to the National Football League season Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

“This was a lot different than a regular-season game,” general manager Ted Thompson said. “This was more like a playoff-tempo game. I think both teams geared up for this.”

Morgan Burnett & Company stuff Saints rookie running back Mark Ingram just outside the goalline on the final play of the game Thursday night.

Although the Packers allowed 477 yards of offense to irrepressible Drew Brees and the Saints’ prolific attack, it was the defense that in the end carried the day.

Five times the Saints drove inside the Packers’ 20-yard line, but all they could muster was 10 points.

The final frustration for New Orleans came with no time left on the clock from the Green Bay 1 after linebacker A.J. Hawk was penalized for pass interference in the end zone.

Never hesitating, coach Sean Payton inserted multiple tight ends and went with Mark Ingram on a power smash, the signature play of the Saints’ ground game and one the Packers worked on all week. On the play, left guard Carl Nicks folds behind right guard Jahri Evans and Ingram tucks in behind.

But the Packers’ 4-4 “hippo” defense wasn’t going to be budged at the point of attack. Slamming in from the outside, linebacker Clay Matthews got a piece of Ingram. Then the rookie from Alabama was finished off by safety Morgan Burnett, cornerback Charles Woodson and linebacker Desmond Bishop as he tried to get airborne over the top.

Thus, the Packers, out-gained 477-399 in a wild-scoring battle against a team they might see four months from now in the NFC playoffs, opened their 91st NFL season with their fifth straight 1-0 start under coach Mike McCarthy.

“I’m sure it was a great game to watch,” said McCarthy. “I’m sure TV’s happy. Our fans are happy. I was happy.”

A crowd of 70,555 sat enthralled on a balmy 68-degree night as the two teams played one of the most hyped and eagerly awaited regular-season games in club annals.

The game exceeded most expectations. Both teams scored on long, breath-taking returns, both teams struggled on defense and both quarterbacks were at the top of their games.

Perfect in the first quarter with a 158.3 passer rating, Rodgers finished at 132.1. Brees was almost as sharp at 112.5.

The only turnover, a fumble by wide receiver Marques Colston on the Saints’ second play from scrimmage, not only led to their early 14-0 deficit but also cost them a possession they could ill afford to lose against a buzzsaw attack like Green Bay’s.

“We’re really aware of how turnovers affect the outcome of a game,” Rodgers said. “To pitch a shutout against a defense that thrives on turnovers, that’s a good night.”

Rookie Randall Cobb tied the NFL record for longest kickoff return with a 108-yard touchdown in the third quarter. It also broke Al Carmichael’s club record of 106 that had stood since 1956.

On the other hand, New Orleans’ Darren Sproles brought back a first-half punt 72 yards for a touchdown and set up another in the third quarter with a 57-yard kickoff return.

On each of the Saints’ four red-zone trips that failed to result in a touchdown, the Packers’ defense made critical plays.

In the second quarter, Charles Woodson made a tremendous breakup of a pass inside the 5 to Colston and the Saints kicked a field goal.

New Orleans had to settle for another field goal early in the third quarter when, on third and 2 from the 7, left tackle Jermon Bushrod inexplicably failed to block linebacker Erik Walden and the result was a 13-yard sack.

Later in the third quarter, the Saints again reached the Green Bay 7 only to be turned away on downs. Jarius Wynn stuffed tight end David Thomas and prevented Ingram from gaining on third and 1, and then on fourth down Wynn pressured Brees into an incomplete pass.

Finally, there was the goal-line stand.

“You have to get the yard,” said Ingram. “Find a way. It was one yard. It was a dive play to go right between the guard and center. They have some great players, and they made a great play jumping over it.”

Gregg Williams, the Saints’ defensive coordinator, partially succeeded in keeping the Rodgers under some semblance of control by digging deep into his vast playbook. Still, the Packers scored 35 points in just 27 minutes of possession time.

“He is one of the top quarterbacks vs. pressure,” Payton said, referring to Rodgers. “We wanted to throw him off balance to some degree. He has a quick release. Statistically, against pressure, he finished No. 1 from an efficiency standpoint.

“We had our opportunities tonight. We play from behind a lot. This is a resilient team.”

Said McCarthy: “That’s the way Aaron plays. He has set that standard. He commands the offense. He’s off to a great start.”

The Packers were gouged repeatedly at the linebacker and secondary levels by Brees, who saw his career mark against Green Bay slip to 2-2. Generally, Brees either had time to throw or danced away from pressure and kept his eyes downfield.

“We had some problems defensively,” said McCarthy. “But that’s a great offense and he’s a great quarterback. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

In the first half, the Packers jumped to a 14-0 lead and went to the locker room leading, 28-17. Rodgers finished the half with a passer rating of 143.6 compared to 107.0 for Brees.

“On both sides, the defenses were just trying to slow the other side down,” Thompson said. “Those were two really good offenses.”

The Packers marched 76 yards in nine plays with the opening kickoff, scoring on the first of Rodgers’ three touchdown passes in the first half.

After hitting Greg Jennings for a 7-yard score and Jordy Nelson for a 3-yard TD, Rodgers finished off a third straight drive with a 32-yard strike to Cobb.

The Saints tried to switch defenses just before the ball was snapped, but Cobb beat strong safety Roman Harper inside. That left the rookie one-on-one with free safety Malcolm Jenkins, and when Jenkins guessed wrong it turned into a touchdown.

“It was a really good catch to start with,” said Thompson. “Once he got in the open field, it’s a pretty tough call. He can go either way. The safety has to pick a side.”

Late in the second quarter, the Packers went 80 yards in 14 plays climaxed by James Starks’ 17-yard run. Guard T.J. Lang blocked Jonathan Vilma and Starks broke two tackles.

“It was pretty well blocked,” said Thompson. “He’s hard to handle when he’s going north and south.”

The Saints fell behind mainly because of the fumble by Colston on a hit by Nick Collins after he caught a 12-yard slant. The recovery was made by Tramon Williams, who walked off in obvious pain with a right shoulder injury at the 3-minute mark.

Brees made it 14-7 in the first quarter with a 31-yard TD pass to Robert Meachem on third and 1. He beat Williams on an over route.

“Play-action and they got heavy in there,” said Thompson. “We’re playing man-to-man. They’ve got a big receiver running a post and a quarterback who can get it to him.”

The Saints moved within 21-17 on Sproles’ 72-yard punt return for a TD. After crossing the field, Sproles cut up and, taking advantage of a slip by linebacker Brad Jones in the hole, went the distance.

“I thought so,” Thompson said when asked if the Packers had tacklers near Sproles. “He gashed us pretty good. He’s a good punt returner.”

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