Packers win shootout in opener, 42-34
Heisman Trophy, meet Lombardi Trophy.
That would be rookie running back and Heisman winner Mark Ingram vs. Green Bay’s defense, and you didn’t need to remind the rollicking crowd at Lambeau Field on Thursday who won that showdown.
With no time on the clock -- because Ingram’s first-and-goal run from the one came after regulation had expired -- the Packers swarmed and stuffed him, securing a 42-34 victory.
“It’s tough when you do make it all the way down there and you aren’t able to punch it in,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose team got one last gasp because of a pass-interference call on the Packers on the last play of regulation. “It’s kind of mano-a-mano at that point. They bowed up and they stopped us.”
It was a wild comeback in a shootout of an opener, one that featured a combined 10 touchdowns and only six punts.
In the end, the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers walked away victorious, even though Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk -- flagged for the pass interference that extended the game -- continued to passionately plead his case to officials as his teammates headed up the tunnel.
This game wasn’t about defense, though. It was Green Bay’s offense that clicked.
Or, more appropriately, unclicked.
As if lifting their finger from a cosmic pause button, the Packers resumed their Super Bowl form of last season. The Saints played well enough to beat just about everyone -- except the Packers, who are even more dangerous with the return of running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley, two of their 15 players on injured reserve last season.
Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Rodgers took a poke at anyone who questioned that the Packers didn’t hold player-run workouts during the lockout. Lots of teams did. The Saints, for instance, staged six weeks of them.
“I’ve just got to ask myself,” Rodgers said, “what would have happened if we had the off-season workouts? Could we have started any faster?”
Of course, no one could take issue with how quickly the Packers started. They led, 21-7, after the first quarter, and Rodgers had completed 14 of 15 -- the incompletion was an intentional throw-away -- with a “perfect” passer rating of 158.3.
By game’s end, Rodgers had completed 27 of 35 for 312 yards and three touchdowns, spreading the ball to 10 Packers.
Brees’ yardage number was even more gaudy: 419, on 32-for-49 passing, also with three touchdowns.
Both teams came away buzzing about their newcomers. The Saints have running back Darren Sproles, the former San Diego speedster, who clearly picked up any slack left by the departed Reggie Bush. Flashing his cartoonish speed, Sproles sliced through the Packers to score on a 72-yard punt return.
Even more impressive was the play of Green Bay rookie Randall Cobb, a receiver from Kentucky taken in the second round. Despite running the wrong route, he scored on a 32-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, then ran a kickoff back in the third quarter for an NFL-record-tying 108-yard touchdown. In the fourth, he gave the Saints a scare on a punt return before he was tripped at midfield (although that return was wiped out by a penalty.)
“We didn’t have off-season workouts,” said Rodgers, again referencing his punch line of the night, “but surprisingly I was able to read his body language there, and he made a nice catch and run for a touchdown.”
It was the fifth consecutive victory in a season opener for Green Bay, and the 42 points were the club’s most in an opener since 1919 when the franchise scored 53 in its inaugural game.
Even though the Packers’ defense wasn’t as prolific as their offense, cornerback Charles Woodson echoed Rodgers on the dubious value of player-run workouts.
“It comes down to making plays on the field, that’s what it is,” Woodson said. “It’s not a knock on anybody for doing it. We’re certainly not saying that. But we felt like we didn’t need to do it. And we felt like a lot of guys did it just for the show. We weren’t into all that.”
Clearly, the Packers were saving their show for the national stage.
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