Taking out his frustration
Aaron Rodgers had a point to make during the game, and he drove home that point during a testy news conference that felt out of place in light of the dramatic victory.
The Packers were the only team in the league to not hold some sort of informal team workouts during the lockout. From the end of June through the Tuesday before the Saints game, Rodgers fielded five questions from local reporters, including twice during a conference call for a celebrity golf tournament, a couple more during training camp and once last week. Not once was he criticized for his decision. In fact, most reporters on the beat fully understood the need to decompress after the championship season. All the reporters wanted was an explanation, which he never really gave.
Listening to Rodgers on Thursday, however, you would have thought he had been crucified publicly.
"It was a good start for us," Rodgers said during his first response after the game. "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?'"
The remark drew laughs but Rodgers continued to bang on the drum. Asked about Randall Cobb's big night, Rodgers talked about offseason workouts. Asked about his penchant for beating the blitz, in general, and the Saints' blitz, in particular, Rodgers talked about offseason workouts. Asked about a rare bad throw, when he missed a chance to hit Jordy Nelson for a 77-yard touchdown, Rodgers talked about offseason workouts.
"I think it's obvious (that Rodgers plays with a chip on his shoulder), and I think Aaron, if he was standing here answering the question, he would say he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, just based on the way he has come into this league," McCarthy said. "I think that's a great thing. It's something he uses to motivate himself. He's an extremely motivated young man. But really, his comments, humorous as they may be, to me that's really a product of too much time between games."
What's interesting is the juxtaposition of a coaching staff that preaches the value of offseason workouts and Rodgers' explosive start to the season without them. In the end, Rodgers proved his decision was correct, delivering a brilliant performance of 27-of-35 for 312 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 132.1.
"It was a good start," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I don't know how much stock you can put into it. I'm a coach, I believe in the value of practice and have always stated that, I'll still state it. The rules dictated that we weren't going to practice last year, so I'm not sure what to make of all that stuff."
Left side is all right
Starting left tackle Chad Clifton was dominated by Dwight Freeney in the preseason game against Indianapolis. Was the 34-year-old's age and injury history finally starting to show? Third-year player T.J. Lang won the starting job at left guard. Was he ready?
Thursday's performances provided promising answers, with Clifton improving as the game went on and Lang showing potential dominance as a run blocker after a couple of false-start penalties.
"I thought he got off to a good start," Philbin said of Lang. "He had two penalties; nobody can average two penalties a game, so that's something he needs to get straightened out, but I thought overall he performed relatively well. He played fast, he wasn't indecisive. He wasn't perfect, but I thought he competed hard and did a good job downfield getting his teammates off the ground. I thought it was something he can build on."
Super start by defense
In the topsy-turvy world of the NFL, what happens one season often has nothing to do with what happens the next season.
However, a Packers defense that rose to the occasion again and again last season showed that it retains its penchant for delivering in the clutch.
While the defense allowed 477 yards, 27 first downs and 27 points, it came through by keeping the Saints out of the end zone on 4-of-5 red zone possessions, including the game-clinching goal-line stand after time had expired.
Moreover, the defense thwarted Drew Brees in two-minute drills at the end of each half. In the first half, A.J. Hawk's third-down blitz forced a holding penalty as Brees dumped off the ball for a 4-yard loss. In the second half, the Packers withstood a desperation march by Brees, who engineered five game-winning drives last season as well as in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl the year before.
"The bottom line is doing what it takes to win the game," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Obviously, I think when you look at these kind of games, you know you're going against one of the top quarterbacks in the league. They're going to make their plays. They've been doing it for quite some time. They've been one of the top teams in the league on third down. Two-minute, I was really concerned because they're probably the best two-minute team that we'd play all year."
Can't argue with Cobb
After the game, Cobb said "God" told him to return a kickoff that went 8 yards deep into the end zone.
How do you contend with a higher authority, Coach?
"I'm staying out of that discussion," coordinator Shawn Slocum said with a laugh.
Cobb's 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown helped nullify a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by the Saints' Darren Sproles. A look at the special teams board in the Packers' locker room shows Slocum's units attained eight of their 11 goals, including winning the field position battle.
"I think it was a heavyweight fight," Slocum said. "There were punches thrown back and forth. There was some great stuff on tape for us to feel good about as well as an opportunity to grow. It had to be a great game to watch."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.