The 2011 and 92nd running of the NFL season kicked-off this morning (AEST) when the Green Bay Packers took on the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field. Heading into the match, last season’s Superbowl Champions, Green Bay, were favourites at $1.44 whilst the previous season’s Superbowl Champions New Orleans were paying $2.90 to cause an upset.
In front of more than 73,000 screaming fans, the match started after a breathtaking rendition of the American National Anthem by Jordin Sparks and the Packers took less than 5 minutes of playing time to score their first points of the season, when a 7-yard Aaron Rodges pass found Greg Jennings in the end zone for a touchdown. Mason Crosby’s kick scored the extra point and the Packers were ahead 7-0.
On just the second play of the night, the Packers forced a fumble from New Orleans and pushed forward to score another touch down when Rodgers’ 3-yard pass found Jordy Nelson in the end zone. Crosby’s kicked was good again and the score had blown out to 14-0, just over halfway through the first quarter.
Just as a blowout threatened to ruin the season-opener, the Saints offence came good when needed and a 31-yard pass from Drew Brees found Robert Meachem in the end zone with 3:31 remaining in the first. John Kasay kicked the goal and narrowed the margin to 14-7.
With just 11 seconds remaining in the first, the crowd was treated to their first “Lambeau Leap” of the season as Randall Cobb jumped into the stands after receiving a 32-yard pass from Rodgers, before crossing over the end zone. Crosby kicked truly again and the score was 21-7 at the end of the first.
The second quarter started more positively for New Orleans as they managed to maintain possession of the ball for longer periods of time and with 9:44 remaining in the half, a 37-yard field goal attempt from Kasay was accurate and the score progressed to 21-10.
Despite the score line still favouring Green Bay, the momentum was shifting and when Darren Sproles’ 72-yard punt return resulted in a touchdown, the Saints were back in the contest. Kasay kicked truly again and the score was 21-17 with 8:37 remaining in the half.
The game had settled somewhat in the second part of the second quarter, before a 17-yard run from James Starks extended Green Bays lead. Crosbys kick was good and the score line read 28-17 with 1:59 remaining in the half.
The remaining play in the half didnt result in any additional score and the Packers went in to the main break with an 11-point lead. For the Packers, Rodgers was passing at a 75% completion rate and had gained 227 yards in the first half, whilst Brees was slightly lower at 66.7% with 169 yards gained for the Saints. Sproles and Jennings had 5 receives apiece and were leading for each respective team.
The third quarter started quietly in comparison to the first, however when Kasay kicked a 38-yard Field Goal for New Orleans, the score margin was narrowed to 8-points (28-20) with 8:40 remaining in the quarter.
The joy for New Orleans was short-lived though when just 14 seconds later, Randall Cobbs NFL record-equalling 108-yard kickoff return resulted in a touchdown for the Packers. Cobb, making his NFL debut, was understandably ecstatic and when Crosby kicked truly, the Packers had once again pulled away, opening up a 35-20 lead.
As if the Gods were conspiring to keep the contest close, with 6:54 remaining in the third, a 29-yard pass from Brees found Devery Henderson in the end zone and when Kasays kick was accurate for the extra point, the score was 35-27. The remaining minutes of the third term were evenly fought however no further scores were added.
The final quarter started promisingly for Green Bay and when John Kuhns powerful 1-yard run saw him cross over for a touch down with 11:50 remaining, the game was once again slipping away from New Orleans. Whilst Crosby kicked truly for another extra point Kuhn celebrated in style and treated the crowd to a second â€œLambeau Leapâ€ At 42-27, the Saints needed a miracle.
The miracle seemed even more unlikely as the Saints were unable to penetrate the Packers defence. However with 2:15 remaining in the match, a 5-yard pass from Brees found Jimmy Graham in the end zone and when Kasay kicked truly, the score was closed to 42-34. Despite their best efforts, the Saints werent able to sneak ahead in the final minutes and the Packers ran out winners 42 to 34 in a very entertaining match.
Statistically, Aaron Rodgers had a wonderful night, completing 77.1% of his passes and gaining 312 yards, whilst Drew Brees completed 65.3% of his passes for a massive total of 419 yards. Green Bays Starks rushed a total of 57 yards from carries whilst New Orleans Mark Ingram rushed 40 yards from 13 carries. Henderson (6) and Jennings (7) were the leading receivers for each team with 100 yards and 89 yards respectively, whilst both kickers went 6 from 6 apiece.
In addition to the fantastic game of football, the atmosphere off the field was electric throughout the match as many Lambeau Field traditions were continued, including the playing of “Go! You Packers! Go!” after the player introductions and the playing of “Bang the Drum All Day” after a Green Bay touchdown. The crowd were also treated to the playing of “Jump Around” during a time-out in the first quarter, a Green Bay tradition which sends the crowd into a frenzy.
All in all, it was a fantastic start to what promises to be a fantastic season.