GREEN BAY - The last time we saw Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, confetti was raining down from the roof at Cowboys Stadium following their 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
It’s seven months later and nothing much has changed.
The Packers aren’t the repeat Super Bowl champs just yet, but on the opening night of a new National Football season they certainly played and looked like it.
The matchup of the past two Super Bowl champs figured to be a high-scoring affair and it didn’t disappoint.
Thanks to Rodgers’ brilliance, the Packers won the shootout 42-34 before a partisan crowd of 70,555.
The game ended with the Saints having the ball on the one following a pass interference call in the end zone with no time left. Rookie Mark Ingram got the ball, was stuffed for no gain and that was that.
In his last game, Rodgers won MVP honours in the Super Bowl triumph.
One game in on the new season and he’s stamped himself as the player to beat for MVP of the league.
To say that Rodgers was terrific would be an understatement of colossal proportions.
“T thought (Rodgers) was outstanding,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Aaron commands the offence. He did an excellent job keeping us in favourable plays and no turnovers.
“He had a big night and that’s the way Aaron plays. He has set that standard and he’s off to a great start.”
Rodgers dictated the flow and pace of the game from the get-go as the Packers won the pre-game coin toss and everything that followed.
In the opening quarter the Packers had three drives and all of them ended with a touchdown pass and a Lambeau Leap.
In the quarter, Rodgers was good on 14 of 15 passes for 188 yards and the three TDs. The only pass he failed to connect on was one he deliberately threw away when from the Saints six-yard line he couldn’t find an open receiver.
On the night, Rodgers was 26-for-34 for 312 yards and the three TDs. Saints quarterback Drew Brees, in a gritty performance, was 32-for-49 for 419 yards and three TDs.
Afterwards, with the victory in his pocket, Rodgers was in a glib mood.
“It was a good start for us,” he said of their first three possessions that all ended in touchdowns. “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?’ ”
Darren Sproles, acquired by the Saints from San Diego, had a terrific game returning kickoffs and punts for the Saints, including a 72-yard TD on a punt return in the second quarter.
While neither defensive units shone bright, the game turned in the Packers’ favour for good on a defensive stop.
With just over three minutes to play in the third quarter, New Orleans faced a fourth-and-one at the Packers seven-yard line trailing 35-27. They elected to go for it but the gamble didn’t pay off.
The Saints faked a run and Brees dropped back to pass. But with no receivers open, he was chased back and his desperation pass fell incomplete, giving Green Bay the ball.
Rodgers and the Pack then nailed down the win as they marched downfield, a drive that ended with a one-yard run by fullback John Kuhn to put them ahead 42-27.
Rodgers spread the ball around as nine Packers caught passes, including rookie receiver Randall Cobb who hauled in a TD pass in his first regular-season game.
Cobb didn’t stop there as following a Saints field goal in the third quarter, he fielded the ensuing kickoff eight yards deep in the end zone, ran it out, broke through a couple of tackles, was hit and spun around in another collision and somehow managed to regain his balance and streak down the left sidelines for a 108-yard return. It was a team record for the Packers and matched the longest kickoff return in NFL history.
“(Cobb) did a great job,” Rodgers said. “It’s exciting watching him with the ball in his hands. The kickoff return was incredible.
“The catch-and-run, he actually ran the wrong route but I was able to read him, surprisingly. We didn’t have offseason workouts but surprisingly I was able to read his body language there and he made a nice catch-and-run for a touchdown.”
It was also a noteworthy game for veteran Green Bay receiver Donald Driver. His second reception of the game in the first quarter was the 700th of his career, making him the first Packer and 33rd player in NFL history to achieve that goal.
This game had the feel of February’s Super Bowl as Green Bay raced to a 14-0 lead and then like the Steelers did in Dallas, Brees and the Saints gave chase, nipping at Green Bay’s heels.
The Saints were able to keep it close through the opening quarter and a half thanks to some big plays such as a 31-yard TD heave from Brees to Robert Meachem in the second quarter and a 72-yard punt return — the first punt of the game — from newly acquired mini-back Darren Sproles at 6:23 of the second quarter.
Still, after the opening quarter the Packers were leading 21-7 and had the ball for 11:17 of the quarter.
For the Saints, though, and defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams the game was a rerun of the nightmare and embarrassment they brought upon themselves in their 41-36 playoff loss last January to the Seattle Seahawks.
In the second quarter there was little letup from the Pack as following Sproles dash up the middle of the field that brought the Saints to within four (they trailed 21-17), Rodgers took his team from their own 20 on a back-breaking drive that was 14 plays long, took 6:38 off the clock and ended when running back James Starks broke several tackles going around the left end and scored on a 17-yard run.
It put the Packers up 28-17 and in control of the game.
At the half Rodgers was 18-for-24 for 227 yards to outpace Brees who was 14-for-21 for 169 yards and one TD.