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Jim Polzin: Gut check time comes early for a Packers team with eyes on a trip to the Super Bowl
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PACKERS | SEASON OPENER

Jim Polzin: Gut check time comes early for a Packers team with eyes on a trip to the Super Bowl

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Packers Saints Polzin column web photo

Saints outside linebacker Demario Davis breaks up a pass intended for Packers tight end Robert Tonyan during the first half of Green Bay's 38-3 loss to New Orleans on Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville, Fla. 

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Name one thing from the colossal stinker that was the 2021 season opener that gave any indication the Green Bay Packers are a Super Bowl contender, as advertised.

Heck, Packers coach Matt LaFleur couldn’t even list one positive to emerge from his team’s 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field.

“None that come to mind right now,” LaFleur said.

LaFleur used words like “embarrassing” and “humbling” to describe this dumpster fire. He admitted the Packers got their butts whipped, though he used slightly more colorful language.

Aaron Rodgers and Co. are 0-1 for the first time since 2014 and it’s no time to panic, not with 16 games remaining in the regular season. But this team is one game into a season that began with enormous expectations and already is in need of a gut check.

“We talk about in the face of adversity staying together and not flinching,” LaFleur said. “That’s exactly what we have to do and we have to get back to work. This isn’t going to magically repair itself. The only way that I believe that you bounce back from any defeat, any setback, whether it’s in football or in life, is you put in the work and so that’s what we’ve got to do.”

How could this happen, something so rancid that a smoky smell that made its way through the press box long after the Packers had left for the airport didn’t even the top the foul odor they left on the field?

There are multiple possibilities, starting with Rodgers’ admission that perhaps the Packers — particularly the offense — arrived in Florida with their chests puffed out a bit too much.

“I think there’s probably some of that,” Rodgers said after going 15 of 28 for 133 yards with two interceptions — a passer rating of 36.8 — prior to getting pulled in the fourth quarter. “We probably felt like we were gonna go up and down the field on whoever they had out there and that obviously wasn’t the case today.”

Another theory: There was a correlation between LaFleur’s decision to rest almost all of his starters during three preseason games and how flat his entire team was in the opener.

Rodgers dismissed that notion and I expected his coach to do the same, but LaFleur seemed willing to at least entertain the possibility it was a mistake on his part.

“Hindsight is 20/20, you can look at a million different things that went on,” LaFleur said. “I think those are all justified, how we approach the preseason. You feel good going into a game having the majority of your guys healthy and available and then you go out there and put a performance like that together, I think you’re right to question everything that we decided to do.”

It’s typically pretty easy to point the finger at certain players or one side of the ball for a loss, but that wasn’t the case this time because it was a disaster on several fronts.

Start with the defense, which was awful in defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s debut with the Packers.

The Saints established the run early and kept pounding away, piling up a massive time of possession cushion and keeping Rodgers on the sidelines.

Ten-minute drives just don’t happen in the NFL, but New Orleans had one Sunday. It came on the heels of one that lasted nearly 8 minutes.

“I am disappointed,” nose tackle Kenny Clark said after the Packers allowed 171 rushing yards. “I am. It just wasn’t good enough today. It just wasn’t. Just by everybody, it just wasn’t good enough.”

Get to know all nine players taken by the Green Bay Packers in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The defense was so atrocious that the Packers’ only chance of staying in the game was getting one of those Superman acts from Rodgers that we’ve seen so often during his previous 13 seasons as the team’s starting quarterback.

What he offered instead was a dud that came on the heels of a drama-filled offseason in which he wanted a trade and considered retirement.

Rodgers’ issues started on the second series of the game when he took a sack for an 11-yard loss, killing a promising drive early in the second quarter. By the time Green Bay got the ball back, it was trailing 17-0.

His bigger mistake came early in the third quarter when the Packers had a chance to cut their deficit to one score. His interception came on a pass intended for Davante Adams and Rodgers later admitted he either should have tried to hit Aaron Jones earlier in the sequence or thrown the ball away.

But Rodgers didn’t get much help in the play-calling department from LaFleur, who admitted he abandoned the run too early and never gave Jones and AJ Dillon the opportunity to do what Alvin Kamara and Tony Jones Jr. were doing to the Packers’ defense.

Case in point: Dillon began Green Bay’s second series with back-to-back gains of 6 yards. Instead of continuing to run the ball and give the defense a much-needed break, LaFleur got cute and called a pass play that resulted in the aforementioned momentum-killing sack of Rodgers.

“It was just an all-around poor performance that starts with myself,” LaFleur said. “I obviously didn’t get these guys ready to play.”

Much easier than ranking what went wrong for the Packers in the opener is to list what went right.

In a word, nothing, a shocking start for a team with designs on being super.


Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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