If you drink, you’re probably aware of that feeling you get when you’ve gone a while without an alcoholic beverage and then have a big night out. It seems to hit you a little harder because your body isn’t familiar with the ethanol suddenly surging through your system.
Prior to tonight, it had been 214 days since my last sip of real NFL football, and now I’m hammered. I’m dizzy. I have the spins. I may have to call in sick tomorrow.
At 10:45 p.m. ET, with 20 minutes still remaining on the clock in a one-score game that had already seen 62 points scored, I exhaled and declared the obvious: “This is amazing.” Delirious enough to neglect the fact that I was talking to myself, I figured things couldn’t get better than they were. And then they did, and two more touchdowns were scored, and the slugfest was in doubt until the clock hit double zeros, plus an extra game-clinching play for good measure.
It’s just a beautiful thing, and the still-profound bruises from that 136-day lockout only intensified the feelings of euphoria.
Okay, enough hyperbole. Football’s a man’s game (at least it used to be, right?) and I’m attempting to be far too poetic. Onto notes from tonight’s fantastic (did I mention how great it was?) opening matchup between the last two Super Bowl champions…
Final score: Packers 42, Saints 34
1. That probably wasn’t pass interference on the second-to-last play of the game, but kudos to the Packers defense for rallying and making a big stop anyway.
2. Speaking of the Packers defense making stops, the run D was super-duper, especially when the occasion called for a big stop. The turning point of the entire game took place late in the third quarter when the Pack stopped Mark Ingram on 3rd-and-1 inside the 10. They also stopped the Saints on fourth down to maintain an eight-point lead. And then of course they stuffed Ingram again on the game’s final play.
3. And speaking of that final play, I was expecting a little more creativity out of the Saints. Not only had they failed to run well all day, but the Packers were stacking it up. No timeouts, but Drew Brees should have checked out to something, anything.
4. The key for the Packers in those situations: B.J. Raji. The big guy is becoming a stud. He and his cohorts made things very difficult for New Orleans’ star-studded interior offensive line. Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks had trouble all day and newcomer Olin Kreutz was terrible for much of the evening. Jonathan Goodwin looks pretty good right about now, doesn’t he?
5. On the fourth-down stop late in the third quarter, the Pack got Brees running backwards, which is never good. Sean Payton took heat for the play call, but credit has to go to the Packers for great immediate clamp-down coverage. Brees had nowhere to go. Now, I’m wondering if things might have played out differently had Charles Woodson been out of the game for this stunt, which took place earlier in the drive…
6. Green Bay might have the best group of cornerbacks in the league. We all know how good Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams are but James Shields and Jarrett Bush are ballers, too.
7. The Saints have to work on their tackling. The Seattle playoff nightmare wasn’t a complete anomaly.
8. Darren Sproles! The little guy is going to be an important cog in this offense all year. I love the way they worked him into the passing game immediately, and his impact on special teams is obviously massive. Don’t call the guy a poor man’s Reggie Bush. He’s a better all-around player than Bush, at a lower price and with less headaches.
9. Aaron Rodgers is finding pretty much all of his targets. There was a legit concern that he’d have trouble getting it to everyone this year, but Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and Donald Driver were targeted enough. The only man left in the dust: James Jones. It’ll be interesting to see if Jones is the forgotten man in Green Bay in 2011. Still, he’s good to have in a pinch.
10. While it’s still too early to get a good read on the revamped New Orleans backfield (they played from behind much of the night), the Packers have to be thrilled with what they got from Ryan Grant and James Starks Thursday night. Starks is electric and Grant is smart and consistent. That’s a solid duo.
11. Randall Cobb! Hate to say I told you so (I really love it). Two touchdowns tonight from the first NFL player ever to be born in the 1990s. The guy might not have a lot of opportunities on offense, but he’s got that play-making ability that encourages coaches to get the ball in your hands as much as possible. His 108-yard third-quarter kickoff return touchdown was one of the best return scores I’ve ever seen. (He also scored earlier as a receiver.) And with a lot of folks hating on the league’s new kickoff format, we have visual evidence of Roger Goodell’s reaction to Cobb’s ridiculous return TD:
12. But one play doesn’t mean the change to the kickoff spot won’t be problematic. Lambeau Field had two touchbacks all season in 2010, and there were eight tonight. If anything, returns like Cobb’s might just encourage returners to go rogue and take chances from deep in their own end zones, which would still cause injuries while potentially limiting offenses even more. That’s all bad for the league. We’ll see what happens this weekend.
13. What killed the Saints last year: they couldn’t force turnovers like they were able to in their Super Bowl season. Tonight: zero interceptions, zero fumbles recovered.
14. What the hell was Jimmy Graham thinking when he mocked the Aaron Rodgers title belt celebration following a touchdown with his team trailing by nine points with two minutes remaining?
15. Obviously we can put the whole “player-organized workouts matter” discussion to bed. Every team that practiced during the lockout officially wasted their time. Period.
16. Defending Super Bowl champions continue to dominate Thursday night openers:
2011: Super Bowl champ Packers beat Saints, 42-34
2010: Super Bowl champ Saints beat Vikings, 14-9
2009: Super Bowl champ Steelers beat Titans, 13-10
2008: Super Bowl champ Giants beat Redskins, 16-7
2007: Super Bowl champ Colts beat Saints, 41-10
2006: Super Bowl champ Steelers beat Dolphins, 28-17
2005: Super Bowl champ Patriots beat Raiders, 30-20
2004: Super Bowl champ Patriots beat Colts, 27-24
17. Very much looking forward to finding out who won the Thursday night ratings battle, Barack Obama (“Jobs Speech”) or the NFL (“Awesomeness”).