GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 08: A.J. Hawk #50 of the Green Bay Packers is called for pass interference on Darren Sproles #43 of the New Orleans Saints on the final play of the game during the NFL opening season game at Lambeau Field on September 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Saints 42-34. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Packers escaped the Saints in Thursday night's season opener, 42-34, in what will go down as one of the most exciting games of the year.
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers topped Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football, the opening game of the 2011 NFL season. The final score had the Packers on top, 42-34, and included a wild finish.
This first game of the season might have been the best game of the year. Seriously. It was that good and included everything from great quarterbacks to exciting punt returns (and a near-record setting kick return) as well as great defensive play, at times.
Here are 10 things to remember about the Packers beating the Saints:
The Saints lost the game by one yard. Zero ticks on the clock after a Packers pass interference penalty as time ran out, the Saints lined up on the one-yard line for an opportunity to tie up the game. With the Saints trailing by eight, RB Mark Ingram, the rookie, was stuffed on the one-yard line by the Packers defense ending the game. Incredible finish to an incredible game. So close yet, if you watched Green Bay's defensive line that night, so far away.
We should have expected the Packers victory. Seven years ago the league started this tradition where the defending Super Bowl champ starts the season at home on Thursday night before the rest of the league and the defending champs have won every team. That, plus the Packers favored at four points, and hindsight tells us Green Bay was going to win.
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees put on a quarterback clinic. Rodgers started off hot as a rocket completing his first eight passes and after the first quarter sitting at 14-of-15 passes completed for 188 yards and three touchdowns. Brees didn't really turn it on until the second half and he ended the game with over 400 yards passing and three touchdowns. Watching both these players throughout the night was a quarterback clinic.
Darren Sproles > Reggie Bush, so far. Through one game, the Saints decision to let go of Reggie Bush and bring in Darren Sproles looks like the right one. Sproles returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown and added another 75 yards receiving on seven catches. He looked like Bush but more effective. Through one game, the Saints are coming out on top after that deal. Speaking of kick returners...
Randall Cobb is setting the bar high for rookie receivers. First, it was a 32-yard touchdown reception from Rodgers. Then it was an amazing kickoff return that landed him in the end zone. (Check out video of Cobb's return here). It wasn't just any kickoff return -- it was 108 yards, the second longest in NFL history. Great start for him.
Saints running game still isn't a big factor. Ingram finished with 40 yards on 13 carries for a pedestrian 3.1 yards per carry. He's just a rookie but a struggling Saints running game is fairly typical. RB Pierre Thomas was a little more effective but only got five carries. Then again, when your quarterback is throwing for over 400 yards, who needs the running game?
The Packers front seven deserves the hype. I went to the Super Bowl last year covering the Packers up close and one of the story lines was just how effective (and young) their front seven was. Anchored by Clay Matthews to B.J. Raji, this is one of the best defensive units in football and they showed it on Thursday night combining for three sacks and continually collapsing the Saints very good offensive line. Raji, in particular, is an impressive man. At his size, he played over 80 percent of the snaps for Green Bay last year, far more than anyone else in the league.
Just one turnover in this game. These teams combined for 76 points and 84 passes between both quarterbacks yet turned the ball over just one time. That's part of the reason they're the last two Super Bowl champs -- they know how to protect the ball.
Going by the rulebook, Charles Woodson should have been ejected. He gave Saints TE David Thomas a nice uppercut -- not a groin shot, as the announcers suggested (evidence here) -- and that's grounds for ejection. The referee was right there, saw the punch and even flagged him for it. I'm not quite sure why he wasn't ejected but, if he were, there wouldn't be much of an argument, according to the rules. Luckily for Green Bay, he wasn't.
This was a strong candidate for the game of the year. It was only the first game with nothing really on the line and plenty of time for the Saints to rebound so it probably won't go down as the game of the year. But when we go back at the end of the season and rank the top games, this has to be in the discussion. Lambeau. Thursday night. Rodgers and Brees. Last two Super Bowl champs. No time left on the final play. How can another game this year top that?