The Green Bay Packers held Mark Ingram out of the end zone on the game’s final play Thursday night at Lambeau Field, giving the Packers a 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints and capping off a thrilling season-opener which gave NFL fans plenty of offensive fireworks and explosive plays on special teams.
Here are some quick observations from the game:
First half fireworks
For those who thought the Packers offense might look rusty to open the season—and I was one of them— those fears were put to rest early. Aaron Rodgers was a surgeon in the first half, completing 18-of-24 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns while carving the Saints defense throughout the first 30 mintues. 188 yards and two of those scores came in the first quarter, as the Packers built a 21-10 lead. By the time the first half was over, the Packers (28) and Saints (17) had combined for 45 points. So much for shaking off the rust. The Packers performance in the first half was eerily similar to how they played in Atlanta in the playoffs.
Corn on the Cobb
Even for the most optimistic supporters of Cobb, no one could have envisioned this kind of start to his NFL career. He caught a 32-yard touchdown in the first quarter on a short, underneath route that was turned into a score on a great effort after the catch by Cobb. He willed his way into the end zone. Then, in the third quarter, Cobb gave the Packers something they haven’t had in 11 years: a kick return for a touchdown. Cobb caught the kick eight yards deep in the end zone, then proceeded to bounce off several tackles—using a nifty spin move to elude one—and outraced the Saints coverage for the touchdown.To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve seen a more impressive kick return in its entirety. The irony in both scores was that Cobb shouldn’t have had either. He ran the wrong route on the first and was instructed to take a knee when that deep in the end zone on kick returns.
Later in the second half, Cobb nearly broke a punt for another touchdown. He was eventually tripped up in Saints territory, and the play was nullified by a penalty. But his performance in all aspects tonight showed exactly why the Packers took him in the second round. Cobb couldn’t have asked for a better NFL debut.
Ground game comes to life
I thought there was some promising signs from the Packers running game on Thursday night. Of their 24 first downs, 10 came on the ground. James Starks ran with the kind of violence that most are now accustomed to. His 17-yard touchdown in the first half was almost all Starks willing his body into the end zone.
Ryan Grant also had a couple of nice runs, displaying the vision that made him a 1,200-yard rusher in back-to-back season. From a purely running standpoint, however, Starks is clearly the more attractive option. He needs to clean up in pass protection, but Starks looks like he could bring a physical, punishing element to the Packers already explosive offense.
Classic quarterback duel
For fans starving for NFL games that meant something, Thursday’s game was everything they could have asked for and more. For fans of elite quarterback play, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees put on an absolute clinic.
Rodgers finished the game 27-of-35 for 312 yards and three touchdowns, good for a quarterback rating of 132.5. Brees was nearly as good, throwing for 419 yards and three touchdowns of his own. Neither had a turnover and each had a stretch where they appeared to be nearly unstoppable.
Rodgers’ streak came in the first half, as he led the Packers to four first half touchdowns on six possessions (counting kneel down to end half). The Packers started 7-of-8 on third downs and Rodgers finished the half with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
Rodgers cooled down a bit after the half, but Brees heated up in a hurry. He led the Saints on three scoring drives, but it easily could have been five. Two of the Saints drives ended on fourth down in the red zone, including the final play. From a Saints’ perspective, it’s too bad the ball wasn’t placed in Brees hands to tie the game—despite being on the one yard line after A.J. Hawk’s pass interference penalty.
The two defensive coordinators—Packers’ Dom Capers and Saints’ Gregg Williams—won’t be happy, but this was exciting football to watch. Rodgers and Brees put on an aerial show Thursday night.
Thought the Packers offensive line held up well. The preseason concerns were real, but they played much better than expected. At times, they dominated the Saints up front. T.J. Lang had some pre-snap hiccups, but he’s a big upgrade in the run game over Daryn Colledge…Jordy Nelson is making a strong case for a new contract in season. He’s been as consistent as any of the Packers receiving options behind Jennings, especially in the past seven or eight games…The defensive line was surprising stout. Without Cullen Jenkins and Mike Neal, some thought this group could struggle. But Jarius Wynn played a nice game and there was a stretch in the second half where the Packers owned the line of scrimmage…Drew Brees is an elite player, but Sam Shields didn’t have a good night. With Tramon Williams injuring his shoulder/arm late, he’ll need to step up his level of play. Remember, he’s still a young player learning that position…Rodgers’ back shoulder throw is nearly indefensible. He has the timing of that play down, especially with Greg Jennings. Those two will likely hook up for several of those touchdowns this season…Jermichael Finley had a stretch in the first half where he looked really impressive. I’m guessing the Saints started shifting coverage towards him in the second half. Still, it’s a very encouraging sign for him moving forward…Capers won’t like the film, but the Packers defense made the plays when they absolutely had to. The two fourth down stops were the difference in the game. I didn’t like the play calls on either from an offensive standpoint, but the Packers made the right adjustments on both and neither had a chance to succeed for the Saints…Charles Woodson should have been ejected in the second half. It was a clear punch to the stomach and the referee was right there to see it. He obviously saw the exchange, as he went straight to his flag. The right call there would have been to kick Woodson out. He’ll be hearing from Commissioner Goodell this week…A.J. Hawk had a rough start to his season. Matching him against Darren Sproles in the passing game was obviously a huge mismatch early, but the tackling wasn’t where it needs to be. In fact, the tackling in general was far below average. Could that be an early effect of the new practice rules?…James Jones was a ghost tonight. When the Packers went to four-receiver packages, it was almost exclusively Jennings, Donald Driver, Nelson and Finley…For the record, I loved the sarcastic way Rodgers attacked the offseason workout questions. I think we all can appreciate that talk disappearing from the Packers locker room.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2