Friday, September 9, 2011
No offensive rust in record-setting opener
After the 132-day lockout led to the cancelation of all minicamps this spring and seriously compressed training camp schedules this summer, there was widespread concern that the level of play would suffer early in the season.
The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints did their best to put such fears to rest on Thursday.
Unlike last year when the Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings 14-9 in a game that featured more punts (12) than third-down conversions (8), 2011’s Thursday night opener offered plenty of offensive precision.
The Packers rolled up 42 points, their most ever in Week 1 and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was a record for points scored by a defending Super Bowl champ in a season opener. Aaron Rodgers completed 27 of his 35 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with nine different receivers. Going back to last year’s Super Bowl, Rodgers now has 616 pass yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games.
Including the playoffs, Rodgers now has nine games with at least 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions since taking over as the Packers starter in 2008.
That’s three more than anyone else in the league during that span and just three short of the number of such games posted by Brett Favre during his 16 seasons in Green Bay.
The Saints offense was almost as sharp. Their 34 points matched the second-most in a season opener in team history and Drew Brees threw for three scores and no picks, snapping his dubious streak of 12 straight regular-season games with an interception.
Another common worry entering the season was that the league’s new kickoff rule would all but eliminate one of the game’s most thrilling plays. Randall Cobb put that to rest with his NFL record-tying 108-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. Cobb added a receiving TD, becoming the first rookie in the Super Bowl era with kickoff return and receiving scores in a season opener according to Elias. The last to do it? The immortal Bill Bowman in 1954.
In his New Orleans debut, Darren Sproles registered 76 yards on kickoff returns, 75 on receptions and 92 on punt returns, including a 72-yard TD. His 250 all-purpose yards were the eighth-best single-game total ever by a Saints player.
And to top it off, the game ended with a classic second-guess.
The Saints passing game was clicking when they decided to run the ball on the final untimed play of the game. Rookie Mark Ingram came up short from the 1-yard line, barely getting back to the line of scrimmage.
Sean Payton should have known a run was a poor decision. Last season, the Saints finished as the worst rushing team in the NFL against short-yardage defenses, averaging negative 0.3 yards per rush.