GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers were completely outclassed for the first 29 minutes of Sunday’s debacle against the New Orleans Saints.
They trailed 17-0, and their first two possessions managed 21 yards. However, Aaron Rodgers drove the Packers to a field goal with a 2-minute drill to make it a 14-point game at halftime. With the ball to start the second half, Rodgers got the Packers moving again. Aided by two defensive penalties sandwiched around a 19-yard completion to tight end Marcedes Lewis, the Packers advanced the ball to a second-and-7 at the Saints’ 9.
Just like that, the Packers had more than a pulse. They were on the threshold of getting back into the game and giving their legion of fans something to cheer.
Last season, Green Bay scored touchdowns on 80 percent of its red-zone possessions – perhaps the best mark in NFL history. For his career when inside the opponents’ 10-yard line, Rodgers had thrown 212 touchdowns vs. seven interceptions. He had thrown 38 touchdown passes since his last interception in the deep red zone.
All that serves as a backdrop for what happened next. Facing immediate pressure as Pro Bowler Cam Jordan blew past rookie guard Royce Newman, Rodgers stepped up in the pocket. However, he was met by former Packers defensive tackle Christian Ringo, who had gotten around veteran guard Lucas Patrick. Rodgers threw well behind star receiver Davante Adams, who was open on a crossing route. The result was an easy interception for rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo.
“The first one was obviously the play of the game that kind of swung things big time – 17-3, if we score there it’s 17-10,” Rodgers said in detailing his two interceptions. “I probably should’ve just thrown it Jonesy [Aaron Jones] and moved on to third down. Pre-snap I was thinking about maybe giving Davante a different route. Stepped up in the pocket, took a shot kind of right as I was throwing it and wish I would’ve thrown that one away or thrown it to Jonesy right away because, obviously, that changed the game, turned the game.”
The Packers were dead. Rodgers got three more possessions. The offense gained 7 yards and failed to get a first down on those opportunities. Due in part to Rodgers’ second interception, a desperation heave on third down, a 17-3 game became a 38-3 massacre of epic proportions.
“It’s just one game,” Rodgers said. “We played bad. I played bad. Offensively, we didn’t execute very well. One game. We’ve got 16 to go.”
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The 36.8 passer rating was the fourth-worst of his career in 191 regular-season games as a starter. One of those was in 2010 at Detroit, when he was knocked out with a concussion. Another was his 35.4 mark in a 38-10 throttling at Tampa Bay last season.
The 35-point margin of defeat was the worst of his career. Green Bay lost 31-0 in the 2018 finale vs. Detroit but Rodgers exited that game after the opening possession with a concussion. In a game that Rodgers started and didn’t leave due to injury, his previous most lopsided loss was 38-8 at Arizona in December 2015.
By Week 1 standards, it was the third-worst in franchise history and the worst in more than a half-century, dating to a 40-0 loss to Detroit to start the 1970 season.
Last season, behind his absurd 48 touchdowns vs. five interceptions, the Packers led the NFL in scoring. On Sunday, with Rodgers throwing zero touchdowns but two interceptions, the Packers have scored a league-low three points.
Rodgers never looked settled. Part of it was because the Saints’ ball-hogging offense was so dominant. The Saints got the ball to start the game and drove 49 yards in nine plays for a field goal. Their second and third drives each went 15 plays for 75-plus yards and resulted in touchdowns.
Of course, it didn’t help that Rodgers and Co. couldn’t give the defense a break. After the first of those 15-play drives put the Saints in front 10-0, AJ Dillon ran twice for 12 yards but Rodgers was sacked on a first-down bootleg and the defense was right back on the field to get pushed around some more.
At halftime, the Packers ran only 17 plays – 13 passes and four runs – while the Saints had 16 first downs. It was a thorough and humiliating beating for a team that spent all of training camp talking openly about what was at stake – and what was possible – this season.
Simply put and literally speaking, the Packers couldn’t run Saints coordinator Dennis Allen out of his game plan. Aaron Jones carried five times for 9 yards, including two for 0 yards in the first half. The running game – both in execution and commitment – must improve – starting with Monday night’s game against Detroit.
“If you can play a lot of two shell and stop the run, it’s not going to be a lot of guys running open,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and figure it out, because this’ll be – I don’t know if everybody’s going to do this and coordinators like to run their stuff, but this’ll be the blueprint starting the season on the Packers. Hopefully, we’ll see it a little more because we’ll have it figured out by next week.”