GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was foggy in Green Bay this morning. Or was that the sky falling?
Look over there. Is that a light at the end of the tunnel or an oncoming train?
See that insect? Is that a grasshopper or the leader of a plague of locusts?
There are three absolutes in life: death, taxes and Week 1 NFL overreaction.
The Green Bay Packers were embarrassed 38-3 by the New Orleans Saints in Sunday’s season-opening game. Coach Matt LaFleur’s game plan didn’t work. Aaron Rodgers didn’t play well. Joe Barry’s new defense was picked apart.
In a 162-game baseball season or 82-game basketball season, one loss is one loss. Nothing more, nothing less. But in the pressure-cooker that is the NFL, especially for a high-profile championship contender like the Packers, one loss is not one loss. It is ripe for nonsensical panic.
Yep, might be.
LaFleur entered the season with a 26-6 record – only George Seifert had more wins in his first two seasons in NFL history – and two trips to the NFC Championship Game. So, Sunday’s outcome was proof that the young LaFleur is in over his head.
Rodgers is the reigning MVP and coming off, based on passer rating, the second-best quarterbacking season in NFL history. So, Sunday’s performance is proof that he’s not invested in the team or, maybe worse, is out to sabotage it before strutting out the door this coming offseason.
Barry, based on his track record running the woeful defenses in Detroit and Washington eons ago, was a curious choice by LaFleur. So, Sunday’s debacle is proof that Barry is a lousy coach and that his previous failures had nothing to do with a total lack of talent with those teams.
Or – and hold onto your hats for a second – the Packers simply played a bad game. And maybe, as Rodgers famously told ESPN Wisconsin’s Jason Wilde after a 1-2 start in 2014, everyone needs to “r-e-l-a-x.”
By now, you might have heard how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 38-3 to the Saints last year but won the Super Bowl. Or how the New England Patriots lost 34-10 to the Tennessee Titans in 2018 but won the Super Bowl. Or, and this is perhaps the best comparison to what happened on Sunday, how the Patriots lost 31-0 at the Buffalo Bills in the 2003 opener but won the Super Bowl.
A total of 21 teams reached the Super Bowl after losing a game by 27-plus points. That includes 10 teams that lost a game by at least 30.
Not even the legendary Vince Lombardi was immune. In 1961, the first of Lombardi’s five championship seasons, the Packers lost 45-21 to the Baltimore Colts. In 1962, the Packers won the championship again. In their only loss, the Detroit Lions sacked Bart Starr a staggering 11 times. In 1965, the first year of Lombardi’s historic threepeat, the Packers lost 31-10 at the Chicago Bears.
“It was one of those days,” Rodgers told McAfee. “You play long enough, you’re going to have one of those. We had one of those last year, too, so we’ve had a couple rough ones in Florida. The few text messages that I did get went something like this: ‘Hey, there was a team that lost 38-3 last year to the Saints that won the Super Bowl.’ So, I’m like, ‘OK, thanks for that …’ I don’t know what kind of lining that is. You’re just trying to make chicken salad out of chicken sh--.”
Last year’s team bounced back from a 38-10 debacle in Tampa Bay to host the NFC Championship Game, with Rodgers winning NFL MVP honors. The 2016 team lost four in a row, including by 22 at Tennessee, but won eight in a row to get to the NFC Championship Game. The 2014 team lost by 21 at New Orleans but won eight of nine to reach the NFC title game.
Simply put, it’s easier to put your trust in what Rodgers said on Sunday – “It’s just one game. We played bad. I played bad. Offensively we didn’t execute very well. One game. We’ve got 16 to go.” – than it is to believe one of the NFL’s perennial powerhouses is about to be squashed by a meteor, flattened by a locomotive or eaten alive by cicadas.