The defense might not have been of the highest quality all game long, but it mattered the most, the Green Bay Packers got their stops, right on time, right on the goalline. Aaron Rodgers had a near perfect game, getting beaten by Drew Brees in the stat section but getting the W in front of a packed Lambeau field to open their Super Bowl title defense in 2011 with a 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints.
Many words were said and written about how the Packers didn’t practice as a team during the lockout and how that would hurt them. First Drive? Nine plays and 76 yards, touchdown pass from Rodgers to Greg Jennings. Second drive, after recovering a Colston fumble? Six plays, 36 yards, another Rodgers touchdown pass, this time Jordy Nelson. The Saints had too much catching up to do too quickly.
Drew Brees got into rhytm soon enough, finishing with 419 yards and 3 touchdown passes, but the relative struggles on defense and on the ground made it nearly impossible to catch up.
It’s not like the Packers’ defense was at its best, allowing 34 points. But, as we said earlier, they got the stops when they needed them the most. The Saints got their big chance in the fourth quarter, forcing a punt and with 1:08 left, on their own 20, Drew Brees led the saints with no huddle shotguns to one final play on the Packers’ one yard line. Mark Ingram, the rookie making his NFL debut (40 yards in 13 carries) was stopped by Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett on the goalline.
Brees, obviously, was disappointed with finish and his team’s execution in crunch time – We were one of five, so we scored touchdowns just one out of five times in the red zone. That’s not going to win you a lot of games, especially on the road in this type of environment against this kind of team. If anyone cares, the Saints did practice as a team during the lockout. That didn’t stop hands from shaking and the defense waking up and starting to get stops and makes plays way too late.
Both teams had two wild touchdowns off returns – Darren Sproles, eager to make an impression with his new team, scored off a 72 yard punt return, making it 21-17. The Packers came back with a long six and half minute, 80 yard touchdown drive. In the third quarter Randall Cobb, who already caught a touchdown pass in the first quarter, tied an NFL record, returning a kickoff 108 yards into the other end zone. Whenever the Saints caught a break and seemed on the brink of turning the game on its head, The Packers came up with a big play.
In these years, its offense that wins games. Defense is that added X factor, that if its good enough, not the best, you can win a lot and go deep in the playoffs. You can argue that New Orleans can enter a shootout with anyone and put more points on the board, but that defense isn’t like in 2009, and the Saints won’t be able to go far this season no matter how many brilliant drives Sean Payton and Drew Brees conjure up.
For Rodgers (312 yards, three TD’s, 132.1 QB Rating) and the Packers, it was all about getting the win. They couldn’t lose on opening night, at home, in front of those fans, after such a scorching first quarter. What ever went wrong? That’ll be fixed. It was all about getting a win and not impressing. When you’ve got a title to defend, it gets a whole of a lot harder to impress and win. Just winning becomes more satisfying.