GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers vs. Jameis Winston? That’s a quarterbacking mismatch.
And it was. But not the way it was scripted.
In his first start replacing the legendary Drew Brees, Winston threw five touchdown passes as the New Orleans Saints dominated the Green Bay Packers 38-3 on Sunday in Jacksonville, Fla.
When Winston threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to put the Saints in front by five touchdowns early in the fourth quarter, Winston had almost as many touchdown passes as incompletions (six). Rodgers, meanwhile, had zero touchdowns, two interceptions and a rating of 36.8 before being replaced for the final 11 minutes by Jordan Love. It was the fourth-worst rating of Rodgers’ starting career, not far ahead of his 35.4 rating in last year’s humiliating loss at Tampa Bay.
The first half was a complete and utter failure, and it didn’t get any better after intermission. With the Saints leading 17-3 at halftime, the Rodgers-led offense, which was kept in mothballs for the preseason, gained two first downs on its first two possessions. The defense, led by new coordinator Joe Barry, gave up drives of nine plays for a field goal, 15 plays for a touchdown and 15 plays (again) for a touchdown.
The tale of the tape in the first 30 minutes: The Saints led 208-70 in yards, 140-12 in rushing yards, 38-17 in plays and 16-5 in first downs. Saints running back Alvin Kamara had more yards (72) than Green Bay.
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The Packers, who finished second in the NFL last season with a 49.4 percent conversion rate on third down, started 0-for-7 and didn’t convert until Jordan Love completed a pass to Amari Rodgers in the fourth quarter.
What it means: That the Packers weren’t ready. It’s understandable why Packers coach Matt LaFleur kept the vast majority of his starters on the sideline in the preseason. No team in the history of football won a Super Bowl in August. The risk (torn ACLs by Packers receiver Jordy Nelson in 2015 and Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins in 2021) outweighs the reward. Of course, LaFleur will never admit his front-line players weren’t ready because they didn’t play in the preseason – and maybe it wasn’t a factor – but it sure as heck didn’t help. And if LaFleur doesn’t like that excuse, the alternative is his team simply isn’t of the same caliber as the Saints.
Key moment: In the red zone last season, Rodgers was 65-of-88 passing (73.9 percent) for 876 yards with 42 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 105.1 passer rating, according to Pro Football Reference. With the Packers in position to score a critical touchdown early in the third quarter that could have cut the margin to 17-10, Rodgers faced pressure and threw well behind Davante Adams. Rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo caught a gift interception.
Key stat: Last season, Rodgers had 48 touchdowns vs. five interceptions and the second-best passer rating in NFL history. In 2019 with Tampa Bay, Winston had 30 interceptions, the most by a quarterback in three decades. So, what happened on Sunday couldn’t have been predicted by anyone with a fully functioning brain. It all added up to the worst loss of Rodgers’ career. The previous worst? 31-0 against Detroit in the 2018 finale, when Rodgers exited after the opening possession.
MVP: All credit to the big guys in the trenches. New Orleans’ front wall gave Winston a month of Sundays to throw the football and continually gave Alvin Kamara and Tony Jones room to run. On the other side of the ball, Green Bay’s revamped offensive line was overwhelmed. Rodgers was only sacked once but never got settled. Aaron Jones carried five times for just 9 yards.
What’s next: The Packers will get an extra day to regroup before hosting the Detroit Lions on Monday night. The Lions lost at home to the San Francisco 49ers 41-33 in one of Sunday’s early games. New Lions quarterback Jared Goff completed 38-of-57 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. However, Detroit’s defense was destroyed by Jimmy Garoppolo, who went 17-of-25 passing for 314 yards and one touchdown. LaFleur, who was 26-6 in his first two seasons, hasn’t lost back-to-back regular-season games.