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Packers-Saints opener makes up for long lockout summer

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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GREEN BAY -- The lockout sure did make these offenses sluggish. Whew. They're going to need a little time to knock off the rust.

Aaron Rodgers had one incompletion in 15 tries, 188 yards and three touchdowns in the opening quarter. In other words, at the end of the first quarter it was Rodgers 21, Saints defense: peed pants.

Drew Brees, not to be outdone, finished the game with 419 yards and three scores. It was astounding to watch such stunning quarterback play against two defenses that last year were among the best in the conference but now looked like they belong to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Saints defense in particular was so victimized in the first half you fully expected a homicide detective to stand over its lifeless carcass before calling in the special victims unit.

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In this 42-34 game won by Green Bay, Brees and Rodgers were a combined 59 of 84 (70.2 percent) for 731 yards, 6 TDs and no interceptions. If Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas had a shootout, it might look like that.

"The problem is when you play Drew Brees, he's going to get a few on you," said Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji. "He made some throws and I was like, 'Jesus.' But he's a Hall of Fame quarterback who does that to a lot of defenses. Luckily we have our own Hall of Fame quarterback in the making."

What more can you ask for in a season opener? After a pass interference play (it shouldn't have been a penalty) gave New Orleans the ball at the Green Bay 1 with a chance to tie the game -- and one final play remaining -- Mark Ingram was stuffed by safety Morgan Burnett and Clay Matthews.

The Packers' 42 points is the second most in the franchise's season-opening history and the highest for a Green Bay season opener since 1919. So the Saints gave up so many points you have to go back to damn near the origin of flying machines to match their level of incompetence.

Sure, the Saints couldn't tackle a 5-month-old carrying a binky, but credit the offenses and special teams here. In fact, this season-opening gem was a beautifully coached offensive game with two of the best head coaching minds in the sport picking apart their defensive counterparts.

"We can score, they can score," said wide receiver Greg Jennings.

But like that?

For a football-starved nation that endured lockouts, judicial rulings and circuit courts for months, this was the perfect anecdote. It was a beautiful night of explosive football in historic Lambeau Field and instead of the NFL wanting to make you puke as it did this summer, it left your mouth pleasantly agape.

CBSSports.com Grades
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints
B-
They gave up 21 first-quarter points and nearly 400 yards of total offense to the Packers, but they came within inches of potentially sending the game to overtime on the final play. QB Drew Brees was in midseason form, perhaps due to the offseason workouts he organized, and their receivers are for real. Besides the feeble defensive effort, the offensive line gave up three sacks.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers
B+
The defending Super Bowl champs showed why they are such, as QB Aaron Rodgers led the explosive offense to 28 first-half points. But as the defending champs, the Packers also left a bit to be desired, defensively, giving up 477 yards to the Saints. If the offense keeps dominating, though, the defense can be 'B' quality all year and the Packers will still win.
By James Carlton
RapidReports Correspondent

It wasn't just the quarterbacks, either. Special teams force Darren Sproles, who runs so fast he looks like a cartoon character, at one point had 204 total yards and a score on just eight touches. And if the Packers already didn't have enough weapons, rookie Randall Cobb out of Kentucky had a 108-yard kickoff return.

What this game proved, perhaps more than anything, was that while the Packers showed vulnerabilities on defense, there isn't going to be a Super Bowl hangover. No way. Not a chance. The Packers are going to be deadly again.

This isn't to say the Packers are going back to the Super Bowl, but what we saw, especially on offense, was that this team, at least offensively, picked up exactly where it left off after beating Pittsburgh. In fact, this Green Bay offense could end up being better than last year, and that is saying a great deal. That should scare the hell out of the rest of the league.

The reason why is Rodgers. He spent a chunk of his news conference mocking how the media made an issue of the Packers not working out together during the lockout when other teams did. It was actually kind of funny. He made three different mentions of it. Some in the media, the more thin-skinned ones, took offense. Rodgers holds onto every slight -- real or perceived -- and it motivates him. So why should we care?

Indeed, Rodgers had a right to gloat. His 188 passing yards in the first quarter was the most of his career. The Packers had five first-half possessions that ended in four scores and just one three-and-out. The last time the Packers had 28 or more points in the first half of an opening game was 1983. Rodgers was the key. He had only his second incompletion with about nine minutes left in the first half.

"He has set the standard," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

He led receivers beautifully. He threw passes in perfect areas. He's mastered that difficult art of throwing a pass behind a receiver, in the right spot, so when the receiver turns, the ball is only in a place where he can get it. Rodgers could do most of this last year but in this game he did it even better.

Brees was great, too, but Rodgers was so practically flawless early it allowed the Packers to jump on the Saints and then hold off their furious comeback.

For football fans, this game was a gift, a gift after months of selfish stupidity. Football was back. The Packers are back. And then some.

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