In a season where expectations are seemingly higher than ever, the Green Bay Packers (0-1, 0-0 NFC North) opened up the 2021 season with a horrific 3-38 loss to the New Orleans Saints (1-0, 0-0 NFC South) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
It was the largest loss ever in a game started by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and it was ugly from the start.
The Saints were the first to get a crack at things on Sunday and, right away, it was clear the Packers’ defense was going to struggle. Quarterback Jameis Winston led New Orleans down the field with ease, even taking opportunities to run for first downs himself and escaping with little contact. However, just as the Saints were inching closer to the red zone, the Packers’ trusty cornerback Jaire Alexander came up huge with some great coverage on wide receiver Marquez Callaway to force an incompletion and make the Saints settle for a field goal. New Orleans’ 44-yard kick attempt was good, and they took a 3-0 lead.
Coming off a year where they seemed virtually unstoppable at times, the Packers’ offense couldn’t find anything in week one of the 2021 NFL season and their first drive was no exception. After failing to convert on third down, Green Bay made a very questionable decision to go for it on 4th and 1 at their own 34. Luckily for them, Rodgers connected with wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 3 yards and the first down. The bad news? The Packers would only get one yard the next three plays and then had to punt.
From there, it got ugly, and it got ugly quick. The Saints went on a monstrous drive that lasted 7:51 and consisted of 15 plays for 76 yards. Star running back Alvin Kamara led the way for the Saints, just exposing the Packers’ run defense, who appeared to make little to no improvements from last season. As the first quarter ticked away, New Orleans’ dominance trickled into the second as Kamara caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Winston to extend their lead to 10-0.
On their next drive, the Packers still couldn’t find any momentum on offense and were forced to punt and give the ball back to the Saints. As a result, New Orleans responded with an even longer and more dominant drive that lasted 10 minutes and consisted of 15 plays for 80 yards. Green Bay’s defense continued to struggle in the trenches and things started to go from bad to worse. On this drive, the Saints went for it on 4th and 7 and converted and again on 4th and goal before punching in another score and running away with a 17-0 lead.
With just minutes remaining in the half, Green Bay had one final opportunity to make it work, and, for a brief moment in time, it appeared that they just might do it. Rodgers connected with wide receiver Allen Lazard for a first down. Then, the Saints drew a big penalty to gift the Packers a first down. From there, Rodgers connected with wide receiver Davante Adams for their one magic moment of the game for a 31-yard gain. However, Rodgers couldn’t connect with anyone in the endzone, and it was up to kicker Mason Crosby to finally get Green Bay on the scoreboard in this one. His 39-yard attempt was good, and the Packers were down 3-17 at the half. Little did we know, they wouldn’t score again the rest of the game.
At the start of the second half, things were certainly in reach for the Packers. They had an opportunity to score right off the bat and cut this to a one-possession game. However, what unfolded was the absolute worst-case scenario for Green Bay. After finally getting some rhythm on offense as a result of first down pickups from MVS, tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan, as well as some extra support from a defensive pass interference play, the Packers were in the red zone for the first time all day. However, any hope the team had was quickly crushed after Rodgers threw an interception at the 9-yard line and the Saints returned it 33 yards.
Luckily, the Saints weren’t able to come up with much of anything and were forced to punt. However, Green Bay responded with another uncharacteristic turnover after Rodgers attempted a deep pass over the middle to MVS on 3rd and 8 and was intercepted on back-to-back drives. This time, the Saints returned it for 53 yards and left no crumbs for the Packers. Just three plays later, Winston connected with wide receiver Chris Hogan for 10-yard touchdown to take the 24-3 lead.
Green Bay continued to look incredibly out of it on their next drive too. After failing to convert on third down at their own 22, they made the questionable decision to go for it on 4th and 1 and Rodgers threw and incomplete pass and turned it over on downs.
Already in the red zone, New Orleans scored just one minute later after Winston connected with tight end Juwan Johnson on an 8-yard pass play to extend their lead even further to 31-3.
After beating themselves with even more penalties, the Packers were forced to punt again on Sunday. At this point, they had failed to even convert just one time on third down.
And, to put the cherry on top of this glorious defeat for Green Bay, cornerback Kevin King got absolutely burnt on a route and Winston connected with wide receiver Deonte Harris for a 55-yard touchdown and our eventual final score of 38-3.
With 10:46 left in the game, quarterback Jordan Love came in for the Packers to close this one out. Although he didn’t do much, he at least helped the Packers convert on third down for the first time all day.
To close the game, Love had a nice drive, with a 32-yard pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb as the highlight. However, that tiny bit of promise was short lived after he fell victim to a strip sack and the Saints recovered the fumble to officially seal the win and prevent the Packers from scoring a single touchdown.
What we learned: This team has a lot of soul searching to do.
It’s plain and simple: this loss was beyond embarrassing for the Packers.
After a drama-filled offseason where Aaron Rodgers basically left the Packers in limbo THAT is how he showed up? With a 36.8 passer rating (ESPN stats)?
After a fantastic year of creative and innovative playing calling THOSE were the plays Matt LaFleur thought he should call? The Packers just stopped running the ball after the first half.
After firing their defensive coordinator and bringing in a new and more “energized” coach THAT was the performance the defense put on? Winston was 14/20 for 148 yards and 5 touchdowns (ESPN stats).
Just a week ago, Davante Adams said this was the hungriest team he’s ever been part of it but on Sunday they looked downright sluggish. I’m not sure what the answer is for Green Bay right now, but I hope they remember this feeling and use it as fuel to never feel this way again. They need to do some serious soul searching and think about the opportunity they have at stake here. If this is truly “The Last Dance” it was off to a clumsy start.
What went right: Literally nothing.
What went wrong: Literally everything.
Offensive MVP: Literally no one.
Defensive MVP: Literally no one.
Up next, the Green Bay Packers host the Detroit Lions for Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field. Kickoff is set for Monday, September 20 at 8:15 p.m. EST.
Sarah Kelliher is a contributor for CheeseheadTV and a podcaster with Pack-A-Day Podcast. She can be found via Twitter @sarahkelliher4.