Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers Lose Big In Season Opener

Saints Defeat Packers, 38-3

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers scrambles as he is pressured by New Orleans Saints linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, left, scrambles as he is pressured by New Orleans Saints linebacker Tanoh Kpassagnon during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo

Nothing seemed to work for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. They lost their season opener 38-3 to the New Orleans Saints.

The Packers scored more points than any other team last regular season. But none of last year’s offensive magic seemed to carry over Sunday. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a pair of interceptions, while wide receiver Davante Adams had five catches for 56 yards, and running back Aaron Jones posted just 9 yards on five carries.

“This is a good kick in the you-know-where, (to) hopefully get us going in the right direction,” Rodgers said after the game.

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Meanwhile, the Saints got off to a quick start, and they didn’t let up.

Quarterback Jameis Winston led the Saints 49 yards on their first drive, which included a 15-yard scramble for the new starter, who took over following the retirement of longtime New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. The nine-play drive ended with a field goal, giving the Saints a 3-0 lead early in the game.

On the ensuing drive, the Packers managed to convert on fourth-and-1 with a short pass from Rodgers to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. But Green Bay quickly burned through its fresh set of downs, returning the ball to New Orleans.

Rodgers didn’t play well Sunday, he said multiple times during a postgame news conference.

Winston has never been known for consistency, but he looked comfortable from the first snap Sunday, and New Orleans dominated the first quarter. The Saints took the ball 79 yards — culminating with a touchdown for running back Alvin Kamara — to earn a 10-0 advantage. Kamara finished the game with 83 yards.

Before Sunday’s game, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur called the Saints’ defense tenacious. Lineman Marcus Davenport showed it in the second quarter, sacking Rodgers for an 11-yard loss and stalling Green Bay’s drive.

The Saints dominated possession in the first half thanks largely to their tough offensive line and effective run game. On fourth-and-7, Winston threw a screen to tight end Juwan Johnson for 12 yards. The play extended a nine-minute drive that ended with another big fourth-down catch from Johnson — this time in the end zone. The Saints took a 17-0 lead.

The game took place in Jacksonville, Florida, where Packers fans turned out in droves. The contest was moved from the Superdome after Hurricane Ida forced the Saints out of New Orleans for several weeks.

One of the big questions was how the north Florida heat would affect the teams. It seemed to have the biggest impact on Green Bay’s defense, which spent most of the first half on the field.

But Green Bay did at least manage to get on the scoreboard before halftime. Rodgers connected with Adams for 31 yards, taking the Packers into field goal range. Kicker Mason Crosby knocked it between the uprights with no time remaining, bringing the score to 17-3 at the half.

With the help of a couple of critical pass interference calls, it looked like the Packers were putting together their best drive of the game to open the second half. But on second-and-7, Rodgers threw a red zone pick to rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo.

For the first time Sunday, New Orleans didn’t score on the resulting drive. Green Bay’s own rookie cornerback Eric Stokes — their first-round pick from Georgia — made a big play on tight end Adam Trautman, knocking the ball from his hands on third down.

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara celelbrates his touchdown against the Green Bay Packers
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) celebrates his touchdown against the Green Bay Packers with teammates including wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo

But the Packers couldn’t capitalize on that defensive success. Rodgers, who threw just five interceptions during his MVP run last season, threw his second of the game. Saints safety Marcus Williams returned the pick to Green Bay’s 12-yard line, and Winston turned it into a touchdown three plays later, putting New Orleans up 24-3.

LaFleur said Green Bay’s problems, including turnovers, penalties and lack of execution, snowballed in the second half.

“It’s very humbling, to say the least,” he said.

Late in the third quarter, it looked like Green Bay’s defense might finally catch a break when Winston threw an interception in the end zone, but it was overturned on a questionable roughing the passer penalty against linebacker Za’darius Smith. Winston and Johnson connected for another touchdown to cap off the drive, and he wasn’t done yet.

Minutes later, Winston completed his first deep pass of the game, a 55-yard bomb to wideout Deonte Harris, to give New Orleans a 38-3 lead with 11 minutes remaining. Winston finished the game with five touchdowns and 148 yards.

With just more than 10 minutes left in the game, Rodgers didn’t return to the field, and Packers quarterback Jordan Love made his regular season debut. Green Bay drafted Love with their first pick in 2020, a decision that contributed to the offseason rift between Rodgers and his longtime team. Love completed a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Amari Rodgers to earn Green Bay’s first third-down conversion of the game. But the Packers didn’t capitalize on their next set of downs.

Love and wide receiver Randall Cobb later connected for a 32-yard reception. But Green Bay’s final drive ended with a goal-line fumble by Love.

Jones said Sunday’s loss doesn’t change the team’s expectations for this season.

“In the NFL, each team has a game like this (per) year, so I think it’s best to get it out early. It’s a long year, 16 more games,” he said.

“We talk about, in the face of adversity, staying together, not flinching,” LaFleur said. “That’s exactly what we have to do, and we have to get back to work. This isn’t going to magically repair itself.”

The Packers will host the Detroit Lions for their home opener at Lambeau Field at 7:15 p.m. Monday, Sept. 20.