It was 1962 when the Green Bay Packers last won a football game in Philadelphia against the Eagles, so Cheeseheads felt belated delight when the green and gold prevailed Sunday by a score of 27 – 20. It wasn’t pretty as the Pack twice blew 17-point leads and there were a couple surprises in this game. Footballs bounce with unpredictable angles and so it was in the season opener for the Packers.
For starters, the Packers’ highly-talented offense managed only minimum production to win this game. Our veteran tackles both had sub-par performances. Under intense pressure, Aaron Rodgers gave a surprisingly mediocre performance after being nearly perfect in the preseason. Rodgers admitted in a post-game interview that he did not play well. Given all the MVP and Super Bowl hype that the media has piled on the Packers and Rodgers, he is an amazingly humble guy. Rodgers and the offensive line can and will play much better than they did against the Eagles, so getting a win out of their semi-stinker performance is not a bad thing.
As shocking as it was that the offense did not produce more, the Packers’ special teams units provided a pleasant surprise. The kick-off return team has been under particular scrutiny, having not returned one for a touchdown in ten years. There were signs of improvement though. Jordy Nelson ran fluidly through some nice holes created by the blockers on five kick-off returns. Also, newcomer punter Tim Masthay did well as did place kicker Mason Crosby, who booted a career high 56-yard field goal. These are not insignificant improvements which may generate confidence that has been sorely lacking in Packer special team units for a long time.
It was also surprising to me that the Packer brain trust became very conservative in the second half after Philadelphia’s convicted-felon quarterback got hot and rallied the Eagles back into the game. Even with the sub-par performance by the Packer offense, that group has so much talent that I am not sure why the coaches wanted to throttle back the play calling in the second half.
On defense, Clay Matthews III had an incredible game…. one of the best defensive performances seen in the land of Cheese in years. Withheld from pre-season play with a bad hamstring, Matthews is an awesome football player. CM III made a critical stop on fourth down late in the game that sealed the victory. Ted Thompson made an incredibly astute move in drafting him last year. The Packers need improvement from the other outside linebacker position though. I didn’t see much there from Brad Jones so he might get a nudge for more playing time by Brady Poppinga or Frank Zombo next week.
Next week the Packers entertain the Buffalo Bills in the home opener at Lambeau. The Bills are currently bottom dwellers in the NFL so conventional wisdom would make the Packers and a redemption-minded Packer offense the prohibitive favorite. Look for the Pack to flex some muscles next week.