The Green Bay Packers put a team on the field Sunday that was shockingly unprepared to play a football game. How and why did this happen? There are several possibilities and they are probably all true.
It was too hot. Too much inexperience on the offensive line. A defense that had no grasp of its new system. A hangover from all the Aaron Rodgers drama of the offseason. Lack of playing time for the starters in the preseason.
But my guess is that this was a football team that bought into all this “last dance” malarkey, believing they were a super team that was going to walk into the Super Bowl on sheer talent and press clippings. They ran into an inspired opponent playing for a devastated fan base that was in desperate need of something to feel good about. This was more about effort level and energy than anything else. The team that went 13-3 the past two seasons didn’t suddenly turn into a terrible team. They did, however, turn into a supremely overconfident one. This embarrassment should take care of that problem.
No one really deserves a game ball, but I’ll hand out a few anyway, acknowledging the bar was extremely low for this week.
That’s right. The punter. In his Packer debut, the former Buffalo Bill played as advertised, averaging 44.0 yards per kick, including a 59 yarder, and pinning one inside the 20. His hang time minimized return yardage. You never want to use your punter too much, but it’s nice to know if the Packers have to, they have upgraded this position.
Playing on a defense that was completely in disarray most of the game, Barnes had a smattering of good fills and solid hits. He showed good mobility in stopping Alvin Kamara from rupturing a big play in the first quarter, holding him to three yards. He crushed Kamara for no gain on second and 14 in the second quarter, and made a nice tackle in the open field on a short pass to tight end Adam Trautman to hold the gain at six yards.
Though he only carried the ball four times, the second year running back averaged just under five yards per carry, showing power and desire, two qualities in very short supply on this day. Dillon was probably under-utilized, but Green Bay gave up on the ground game early.
The defensive game plan
Whatever the plan was to stop the Saints offense, it was clear the players did not understand it. New Orleans receivers were running wide open in the secondary all day long, leaving defensive backs to shrug and hold out their arms in frustration, indicating they were expecting some sort of help. The pass rush failed to scare quarterback Jameis Winston, who had no problem leaking out of the pocket and making plays on the run, both with his legs and arm. Saints coach Sean Payton comprehended early on that any play he wanted to call was there. He showed complete disrespect for the Packers defense when he brazenly went for it on fourth and seven from the 41 yard line, easily converting with a tight end screen pass, and then again on fourth and goal from the three, despite being ahead by 10, resulting in a TD pass to Juwan Johnson.
Three tough calls
The first one came with Green Bay down 10-0 in the second quarter. On third and 14, Rodgers overthrew Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had “fallen down”. On replay it looked like pass interference. The second came on the back-breaking, red zone interception in the second quarter. Away from the ball, Dominique Dafney was clearly held on the play. The pick should have been nullified, and Green Bay given a first and goal inside the five yard line. The Packers were down just 14 at the time. The third one was the roughing the passer call on Za’darius Smith in the third quarter that nullified a spectacular interception by Darnell Savage. Replays showed the hit was not late and was in accordance with the rules.
Those three calls did not cost Green Bay the game, but one wonders if the contest might have taken a different path if they had gone the Packers’ way.
Rodgers holding the ball
Shades of 2018. One of the keys to being the number one offense last year was Rodgers throwing the ball on schedule. Yes, receivers were not open, but throw the thing anyway and give them a chance to make a play. You might even get a pass interference call or two. Do you risk interceptions? Sure. But Rodgers threw two picks anyway.
Aaron Rodgers (asked if the Packers came out too full of themselves) — “Yeah, I feel like there was some of that. We probably thought we were going to go up and down the field on whoever they had out there…. felt like our energy was a little bit low. It was a little San Diego-ish from a couple years ago.”
Aaron Jones — “You know, it kind of caught me by surprise. I’m not used to losing like this. All the guys and myself included, we had a great feeling coming into this one. We felt like we worked hard in practice and did everything we needed to do leading up to it.”
Adrian Amos — “We can’t let one game beat us twice. We have to go out there and make the corrections….I still have the utmost confidence in our defense.”
Matt LaFleur — “Our guys are going to have to take a long, hard look in the mirror. It starts with myself. Obviosly didn’t get these guys ready to play ball, and that’s what happens when you play a good football team.”
THREE AND OUT
• Contrary to perception, Rodgers, for the most part, did get enough protection from his offensive line to throw the ball on schedule, something he confirmed after the game. It was only when he held the pigskin that he got into trouble. The young offensive line had its struggles, but they were far from Green Bay’s worst problem.
• I understand why you would put Jordan Love into the game in the fourth quarter, but I was hoping LaFleur would leave the rest of the starters in the game. Sooner or later it would be nice to see what Love can do with our best players around him.
• Was I the only one who had an NFC championship game flashback when Kevin King, looking puzzled, watched Dionte Harris run past him for a 55 yard touchdown catch?
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.