GREEN BAY -- "Do we play some of the most dramatic games in NFL history?!'' Greg Jennings said to me on Lambeau Field Thursday night, still short of breath from the end of Packers 42, Saints 34. I should think so. Let's try to make sense of the 10th Thursday night opener, the best one since the league went to the new concept in 2002:
I thought it was a Ted Thompson game.
That's the best you can come up with, King? After an 1,191-all-purpose-yard offensive explosion (876 offensive yards, 315 on some ridiculous returns)? After the crazy ending?
I had this thought in the fourth quarter. The Packers were the hottest team in the league down the stretch last year, obviously, and had several players coming back from injured-reserve after the lockout. Yet, 10 rookies made the 53-man squad. So with a very good team already, 19 percent of the team (not counting the guys returning from IR, obviously) is brand new.
Two very big players on defense in the opener, safety Morgan Burnett (14 tackles) and linebacker Erik Walden (big sack of Drew Brees) came from the draft and the street, respectively, in 2010. And Randall Cobb. What do you say about a rookie who exploded onto the national consciousness like that?
For all you fledgling general managers out there, look at Thompson's model. Don't get emotional when the fans want your hide, trust your young players, hire a smart teacher as coach, and know there is life after the draft's first round -- abundant life. Let's look at Thompson's second-round picks, for instance, since taking over as GM in 2005:
• Nick Collins, safety. One of the best free safeties in the league. Another big play last night, with the first-quarter strip of Marques Colston that led to a Pack touchdown.
• Terrence Murphy, wide receiver. Washout.
• Daryn Colledge, guard. Marginal starter. Left for Arizona in free-agency this year.
• Greg Jennings, wide receiver. Top-10 receiver in football. Great hands, instincts, explosion.
• Brandon Jackson, running back. Had his chance to win the job, never could. Now on IR with Cleveland.
• Jordy Nelson, wide receiver. Should be a Packer for next six to eight years as third or fourth receiver in one of the game's best offenses.
• Brian Brohm, quarterback. Washout.
• Patrick Lee, cornerback. Never realized his potential, but a nice fourth corner, which every team has to have.
• Mike Neal, defensive tackle. Inactive last night with a left knee injury. Pack hopes he can turn into Cullen Jenkins' replacement, and he was showing in camp he was a good candidate to do so.
• Randall Cobb, receiver/returner. Had 175 receiving-return yards, including the electric 108-yard kickoff return.
The Packers won the game Thursday night because of the brilliance of Aaron Rodgers (you know the story of Thompson and Mike McCarthy holding firm for Rodgers over Brett Favre in 2008) and some good defensive plays when they needed them. But as always in the NFL, nothing is that simple
I remember what Thompson's mentor, former Pack GM Ron Wolf, once told me about success in the draft, about hoping he could hit .333 on his draft choices. I don't know what Thompson's batting average is exactly, but when you factor in the free-agent strikes like Walden, Frank Zombo, Tom Crabtree, Sam Shields, Tim Masthay and John Kuhn, you look at a smart team being married to one way of doing business. Take the best player, regardless of position, when it's your turn to draft, and don't be married to anything that happened last year. That's what we saw in the Packers' starry opening win.
The Saints corners are a worry. Yes, they played on a slippery field Thursday night, and maybe you blame some of it on simply trying to get away with playing the game with shorter cleats. But what I viewed as a strength of this team -- Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter as starters and Patrick Robinson as the nickel -- I now hold in question. Part of that is the inconsistent pressure New Orleans got on Aaron Rodgers. Robinson, in particular, was poor either when he tried to jam at the line or sat back and tried to play coverage. My biggest concern about New Orleans entering a two-game stretch against good quarterbacks (Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub) is whether Drew Brees is going to outscore teams every week for the Saints to have a good chance to be a January factor.
Bryan Walters, WR/KR, San Diego (No. 13). Interesting story, obviously, anytime an Ivy Leaguer makes an NFL roster. But Walters, a Cornell grad who holds the Ivy record for both kickoff and punt-return yardage, went to camp with the Chargers last year and was released, injured, with a strained hamstring in August. He went home to Kirkland, Wash., a Seattle suburb, and continued to rehab and work out until the Chargers signed him to the practice squad in December. And he went to training camp as one of the long-shot free agents.
That lasted until the first preseason, when he zoomed through the Seattle kick-coverage team for a 103-yard touchdown. Then he caught the winning touchdown pass at Arizona in the third preseason game, and A.J. Smith and Norv Turner decided to keep him as a fifth receiver, return specialist and special-teamer. Emphasis on the special-teams stuff, after last year's San Diego meltdown.
"I did it for four years at Cornell, and I loved it," Walters said of the return game and the kick and punt coverage. "As a young player, I know what's required of me. I can help on special teams, help in the return game. That's my major focus."
As a smallish slot receiver (likely), Walters reminds some in San Diego of the great slot man that got away. "Wes Welker," he said. "I hear about him a lot. He's one of those guys who gets it done with his hands, his route-running and his desire. That's the way I hope to play."
Look for Walters to be active and a big part of the Chargers' hoped-for resurgence under new special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia.
Cleveland TE Evan Moore vs. Cincinnati:8 receptions, 101 yards, 12.6 yards per catch, 1 TD. The Browns want Moore to be two things: an extra pocket-protector for young Colt McCoy and a productive West Coast tight end who can move and do some of the athletic things such a tight end needs to do. Against Cincinnati, McCoy will have a move-the-chains mentality and look for Moore, a trusted target, especially when he's moving in and out of the pocket.
1. Whether the rebuilt Baltimore secondary can handle Pittsburgh's speed. Ever hear of Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith? The Ravens will play lots of corner combinations this year I'm sure, but this week, Williams and the first-round rookie, Smith, will be the most important cover guys against a rising-start group of receivers in Ben Roethlisberger's stable.
Smith, a 6-foot-1 physical corner from Colorado, will be under the microscope early and often. "I'm not worried about him," speedy Steeler receiver Mike Wallace told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He needs to worry about us. We're going to be coming at him." Fair warning.
2. The NFL Matchup Show. My favorite Sunday morning TV is back with the same crew (Sal Paolantonio hosting, Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge analyzing, Greg Cosell and his minions tape-dissecting) on ESPN (3 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. ET) and ESPN2 (8:30 a.m. ET) with these stories to kick off the season: why Pittsburgh's Lawrence Timmons is woefully underrated; the myth of Houston as a 3-4 team; and clues for the Dallas-Jets game by looking at defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's game plan last year when he was with Cleveland playing the Jets.
3. Kerry Collins. Seventeen days after ditching a comfy retirement with no thoughts about ever playing football again, Collins goes up against Wade Phillips' attacking new defense. Rookie Anthony Castonzo is protecting the quarterback's blind side at left tackle. Mario Williams will be rushing over Castonzo a lot. I mean, I'm just saying.
4. Nnamdi Asomugha in the slot. He hasn't played much slot corner, but when the Eagles go to nickel against Sam Bradford Sunday in St. Louis, he's likely to move inside to do so in some formations. He stayed outside most of his years in Oakland, and playing inside, Asomugha is likely to be ping-ponged around a bit more, bruised and bumped. We'll see how he handles that, plus how he handles the slippery Danny Amendola of the Rams when they match up. This is no walkover, folks. By the way, you can hear 40 minutes of Asomugha here, on my inaugural NFL podcast for SI.
5. How the Jags respond to the mayhem of the week. No wonder the Jag fans didn't go to the box office in a gold rush for tickets to the opener against Tennessee. Luke McCown's starting at quarterback. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Jack Del Rio thought so much of McCown that he never got on the field in the third preseason game, when you generally play your starters (and those due for significant playing time) most of the game.
The Jags, through an email from GM Gene Smith to the Florida Times Union, were left to clean up the mess after Del Rio's decision to cut David Garrard a couple of hours after he was introduced as the quarterback of the team at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. "It was not my intent to be insensitive to a man and a family I have great admiration for," Smith wrote to the paper. "Immediately after the event, Jack and I and then [owner] Wayne [Weaver] sat down with David to discuss the decision that was made in the best interests of the team.
As it relates to the kickoff event or really any of the events that took place Tuesday, I take full responsibility. Obviously, it would have been easier and would have made the release seamless had we done it over the weekend. I kept an open mind to making the final decision on the QB decision until Tuesday, so if keeping an open mind and being dilatory in the process is a mistake, then I made a mistake."
It'll be interesting to see the reaction to the Jags by the crowd if they fall behind early Sunday.
6. How 9/11 affects the games, and the games on TV. All players and coaches will wear 9/11 ribbons on the 10-year anniversary of the event Sunday, and they'll join with fire and police officials in every stadium to hold huge American flags for the national anthem, and taps will be played over the sound systems. All that is good. I'm not anti-commemoration, but I just hope it doesn't become a maudlin event. Football helps Americans deal with the pain of things like 9/11, but I don't think it helps to wallow in it all day.
7. The hospital ward that is the New York Giants defense. The two rushers, Osi Umenyiora (knee surgery) and Justin Tuck (neck) are out and questionable, respectively, for the game at Washington. The middle linebacker and signal-caller, Jonathan Goff, is gone for the year after a practice-week knee injury the other day. Stalwart corners Terrell Thomas (ACL surgery) and Prince Amukamara (broken foot), and nickel guy Bruce Johnson are out.
If you're the Giants going to Washington on Sunday, you're thinking you'd better have lots of time-consuming drives to keep the ball away from the Redskins. "We're going down to win a football game on Sunday and we're not crying," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
No truth to the rumor that Tom Coughlin found Fewell in the fetal position before practice Thursday, rocking back and forth and mumbling to himself.
8. Chad Pennington doing Cam Newton's first game. I'm almost as interested in the new FOX analyst, working the Carolina-Arizona game with Sam Rosen, on Newton as am I in watching Newton play his first game. Pennington's one of the smartest people I've met covering the game, and he's highly analytical of the quarterback position. Good choice by FOX.
9. Arian Foster's fate. If he plays without restriction with his bum hamstring, the Colts are in big trouble. They may still be in trouble with full-of-potential Ben Tate. But every fantasy player with Foster on the roster (hey, that rhymes) won't sleep Saturday night.
10. McNabb in purple. Orange in college, green in Philly, burgundy in Washington. Purple and white? That's weird, wacky stuff. I'm anticipating a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson for the Vikes, with rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph emerging to be McNabb's safety valve.