Since this is Week One, here's a little background. The Packers are as hyped this year as they've been since the Super Bowl years of the mid '90s. They've only been to one playoff game under new QB Aaron Rodgers - losing that game last January - but their young offensive weapons have a lot of people drinking their Kool-Aid.
Now, here's what's up in Week One:
The Game: at Philadelphia Eagles. Also a Wild-Card team last year, also lost in the first round of the playoffs. Traded long time QB Donovan McNabb in the offseason, putting young QB Kevin Kolb in a situation that's similar to where the Packers and Rodgers were two years ago.
Things That Excite Me: Tight End Jermichael Finley has been promising a break out year, and looked great in the preseason. However, I'm most interested to see the Pack's offensive line, which seems to be as stable as it's been since Coach Mike McCarthy came on board 5 years ago.
Things That Worry Me: The Packers defensive backfield - which gave up 51 points last time they played - is short two probable starters with veteran CB Al Harris and S Atari Bigby out for the first six weeks with injuries. Undrafted CB Sam Shields will be the third CB, and the Eagles boast a deep set of receiving threats.
Also, the much beloved offense might face some first game jitters, and the Pack haven't won in Philadelphia since 1962.
First Quarter: Both teams started slowly, with the Eagles scoring the first points on a FG late in the quarter. Rodgers' first INT of the season, a bad pass over the middle toward Finley set up the FG drive. Both teams definitely looked out of sync on offense - those jitters I was worried about - but the Packers seemed to pick up the pace late in the quarter and were driving as it ended. (3-0, Eagles lead.)
Second Quarter: The Pack start the second quarter with their second consecutive sack given up, which kills the drive - but Mason Crosby hits a FG to tie the game at 3. Sloppy play continues, with injuries too, until a good drive gives the Pack their first TD of the season as Rodgers hits Donald Driver (one of my favorite Packers EVER!) on a third down. The Pack get the ball back on a quick punt after that TD, and Crosby hits another FG - a franchise record setting 56 yarder - to extend the lead. (13-3, Packers lead.)
Third Quarter: Kolb, who was shaken up on a great play (from a football standpoint, not saying it's good that he was injured) by Clay Matthews late in the 2nd, is out for the day with a concussion. So is Eagles MLB Stewart Bradley, who the TV heads claim is their defensive leader. This means the infamous Michael Vick is in at QB for the Eagles, and he looks pretty good. The Eagles' first drive ended when All-Pro CB Charles Woodson forced a fumble that the Pack recovered. The Packers offense went straight down field, and scored after a couple of strong runs by FB John Kuhn, giving the Pack a 20-3 lead.
Vick led a good drive for the Eagles, and LeSean McCoy scored to make it 20-10. The Packers responded, as Jordy Nelson returned the kickoff 51 yards and Rodgers and Jennings hooked up for a 32 yard TD (against former ISU Cyclone Ellis Hobbs, no less). This leads to the third quarter ending with the Packers leading (27-10, Packers lead.)
Fourth Quarter: It's not over yet, folks. A third down stop is negated by a defensive holding penalty, and the Eagles make their way downfield. After a good defensive play in the redzone by Nick Barnett (Eagles fans, hostile as ever, were calling for interference) and a sack by undrafted rookie Frank Zombo, Vick hit on his first TD pass of the day, to tighten the score to 27-17. Another good return by Nelson led to another Rodgers INT on a horrible pass over the middle. The Packers defense seems to be wearing down - they've been on the field a lot lately. However, the defense held up in the red zone this time, and the Eagles were held to a field goal. With 5:43 left to play, it's 27-20 Packers.
Then, things get really tense. The Packers offense sputters again, and the Eagles use all their timeouts to get the ball back. They continue to drive on the Pack, but a sack by linebacker Matthews gives them a long third down. Vick completes over the middle, but they're a yard short of the first down with 2:00 to play.
On fourth and one, Vick runs out of the shotgun. Matthews leads the charge up the middle...and makes the play. Turnover on downs, the Packers get the ball, Victory formation. Final score: 27-20, Packers win!
Let's take a look back at the game:
- The secondary looked really good against Kolb, but started to wear out versus Vick. The Eagles' top receiver, DeSean Jackson, was a non-factor. Shields and rookie safety Morgan Burnett didn't make the big mistakes that I was afraid of.
- Wide Receiver Greg Jennings had a big game, with his third quarter TD and a spectacular one-handed catch that extended the first TD drive as highlights. Finley and Driver seemed neutralized at times, but Jennings made the plays that needed to be made.
- Jordy Nelson was fantastic returning kicks. This was a major concern coming into the game, but he had three excellent returns and looked comfortable there.
- The running game needs to improve, fast. Starting RB Ryan Grant left with an ankle injury in the second, which could be a huge blow to the offense if he has to miss time. The run game wasn't great when he was in - though he had a few excellent runs - and was even worse without him.
- The defense wore down late, and any time Jarrett Bush is on the field I worry.
- Injuries to DE Cullen Jenkins and Justin Harrell also are concerning. The Packers are not deep on the D-line, and - though Jenkins returned and played well - injuries up front could kill the run defense. Former first round pick Harrell is running out of chances to prove he can stay healthy.
- Wasn't the offensive line supposed to be stable? Rodgers got hit way too often.
- Clay Matthews has to be the MVP of this game, with several big plays, at least 4 of which killed Eagles drives - including the final stop on 4th and 1. After missing large portions of camp, having Matthews playing like this is exciting to see.
- Undrafted rookie Frank Zombo gets a mention because a) his name is freaking Zombo, and b) he had a sack in his first game.
- Mason Crosby making both of his kicks is huge. He's been erratic through his first years in the league, but these were two tough kicks and they give me faith that the worst of his career is behind him. (Note from The Mike: Fans, remember to ALWAYS compliment the kicker! They're moody fellows, and you really need them happy.)
I'm both pleased and disappointed with today's result. But, a win is a win - and in a tough place like Philly, I'll take it. If this is one of the offense's worst games of the year - they didn't look too good outside of the three TD drives - they should put up big numbers this year. Hopefully they can work out the kinks in the running game, and Rodgers won't play that badly often.
Next Week: Packers vs. Buffalo at Lambeau Field in the home opener. Here's to many GO PACK GO chants and a lot of Todd Rundgren!
(Because they play "Bang on the Drum All Day" whenever the Packers score a TD, not because he plays for them, of course.)