OK, what the hell was that?
I was one of the fortunate few who didn’t watch the first half, as I was driving home from my daughter’s softball tournament in St. Joseph. I had the pleasure of listening to Wayne and Larry try to describe an offense that was stuck in neutral and a defense that had no answer for Alvin Kamara and Jameis Winston.
They opened the second half with a little pep in their step, marching down the field and then Aaron Rodgers throws a pick in the red zone, something that happens as often as he’s asked to guest host on Jeopardy. He looked nothing like the guy we’ve watched the past two seasons. Do we blame the summer of his discontent, the notion that he and the offense came in cocky and arrogant, or their lack of reps in the preseason? Or maybe all three?
Then there’s the defense. A unit that is virtually the same as last year and one that looked like it had no idea what new coordinator Joe Barry wanted them to do. No sacks, virtually no pressure on Winston, no turnovers and no ability to prevent them from converting on third or fourth downs. Winston and his band of no-name receivers didn’t put giant fantasy numbers on the board, but they did enough to confuse the Pack and make big plays whenever they needed to.
As confused and error-prone as the defense was, it takes a back seat to the play of the offense, which in no way resembled the group that led the league in scoring last year. Yes, there are a lot new faces in new places on the offensive line, but overall I think the youngsters up front did an okay job. Matt LaFleur abandoned the running game early and didn’t show any of the pre-snap motion and jet sweep stuff that makes this scheme so tough to defend. Randall Cobb didn’t get one target from Rodgers in this game. How does that make any sense? The next third down that Rodgers converts will be his first of the season.
He looked like the 2018 version of himself, holding onto the ball too long and missing on open guys because he was a beat too late. His red zone interception was jaw dropping because this is something he just does not do. That was the play that really sealed the Pack’s fate; it looked like they were about to cut the Saints lead to 17-10, and instead New Orleans took over and went down and scored again.
Trailing 24-3, the game was all but over, but the Pack’s fate was sealed on the egregious roughing the passer call on Za’Darius Smith. It negated a sweet Darnell Savage interception in the end zone that might have provided Green Bay with a faint pulse. Instead, Winston got a fresh set of downs and scored a play or two later and Jordan Love began warming up. Those kinds of calls are the ones that infuriate players, coaches and fans more than any other, because they erase terrific effort by defensive players, who are already up against it, playing a game that is designed and officiated to cater to the offense.
The players and coaches said all the usual things after the game. LaFleur said everyone needs to look in the mirror, including himself. Rodgers said maybe they thought they could just go out there and run up and down the field on the Saints.
None of it makes any sense. This team has been knocking on the door of the Super Bowl the last two years, and this roster was brought back to finish the job. We all know it’s likely the last season that this group will be together. The organization has stretched the salary cap to a point where there will be a major reckoning next season. A lot of familiar names will be gone, likely including Rodgers, maybe Davante Adams, Mason Crosby, Preston Smith, Kevin King, the list goes on.
It’s true that you can’t overreact to the first game. Last year’s champs, the Bucs, lost to the Saints on opening weekend and then got drilled by the same score 38-3 later in the season. But this performance was so wretched, so eye-opening, so unexpected that it makes you wonder how they can flip a switch and perform anything like the team we saw last year.
They took the field in Jacksonville looking like they were anything but ready for prime time. Well, the next two games are in prime time and they’ll get a chance to show the world whether that performance was an aberration or the early signs of a team whose MVP and leader has mentally checked out and is just playing out the string in 2021.