Football is back! Thursday’s NFL Kickoff signalled the return of the 1am alarm calls.
By the time the first jolt of caffeine is buzzing the Bridge blood stream the Green Bay Packers are a touchdown to the good, courtesy of the first Aaron Rodgers-Greg Jennings hook-up of the 2011 season (0-7). Rodgers is looking commanding already, converting a crucial 3rd-down and long with a a 12-yard strike to Donald Driver to prolong the 80-yard drive to pay dirt.
Furthermore thanks to a bruising Nick Collins hit on Marcus Colston they are threatening to convert the running-back’s midfield fumble into a second score, driving remorselessly towards the visiting New Orleans Saints’s goal line.
Sure enough Rodgers fires a 5-yard dart to Jordy Nelson (0-14) seemingly all alone on an island in the end zone. The Pack are back and looking hot baby.
In fact I feel I’ve slipped back in time to Super Bowl Sunday when they carved much the same swathe through the hapless defence of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Drew Brees is a classy quarterback and he hits back swiftly to steady the ship; firing 31-yards to 5th-year veteran receiver, Robert Meachem, for the score (7-14); a strike straight to the heart of the Packer defence.
With three minutes still to play in the opening quarter and three crisp scoring-drives on the board the off-season labour dispute seems like nothing but a bad dream.
And when Packers’ rookie, Randall Cobb, caught Rodgers’ third touchdown strike of the opening quarter with 11 seconds on the clock (7-21), well even that thundering alarm clock was forgiven as I was transported to Packer heaven.
Saints’ 41-year old kicker, John Kasey, struck a blow for us oldies by banging over a 31-yard field goal (10-21) to end the Saints opening drive (71-yards) of the 2nd quarter in this, his 21st NFL season.
Darren Sproles then consigned the memory of the departed Reggie Bush firmly into New Orleans’ history when he returned a Packer punt 71-yards for a TD (17-21).
James Starks, like Sproles, is having a strong game despite splitting time with the returning Ryan Grant at running-back and he caps the Packers’ 80-yard drive with a bustling 17-yard TD rush (17-28) to respond in kind.
This game is turning into a real shoot-em-up. Just like in Arena Football we need to start counting the stops, which have been few indeed in this game. The fumble forced by Collins is looming large as the difference maker between these two teams at the half, leading as it did to the second Packer touchdown and a likely 14-point swing.
No complaints from me though; it’s 3:10 in the morning and I’m on the second cup of coffee. Bring on the second-half.
The Saints started out with a brisk enough drive, but a sack by xxx and xxx forced them to settle for a 38-yard Kasey FG (20-27).
But the Packers answered in seat-leaving, air-punching, high-fiving fashion. Folks who feared that the kickoff return was dead – following the rule change that shifted the kickoff point to the xx-yard line – need worry no more as Packer rookie, #18, took one back 108 yards for the TD (20-35); this despite being flipped around by (Patrick Cobbs) on his own 20-yard line.
Predictably the Saints responded in kind; Sproles adding a thrilling 52-yard kickoff return of his own before Brees linked-up with Devery Henderson for a 29-yard TD pass (27-35).
Talking of stops the Packers came up with a massive one with 4 minutes remaining on the 3rd quarter: Hawk and Bishop combined for a big tackle to halt Ingram on 2nd and short on their own 10-yard line. With Ingram running into a pile-up and ultimately BJ Raji on 3rd and inches it left Saints’ coach, Shaun Peyton, gambling on converting a 4th down. But great Packers penetration had Brees scrambling for his life deep in the backfield before dumping it off as an incomplete pass to avoid the sack.
Kuhn rubbed salt in the wound following his center right up the middle from the 1-yard line for a TD (27-42).
Brees’ 5-yard pass TD toss to Jimmy Graham (34-42) raises hopes of a rally, but veteran Driver is on the spot to field the Saints’ onside kick, leaving New Orleans needing to stop the Packers drive cold and force the turnover to have one last chance to tie the game.
A poorly executed 3rd-down play saw the Packers’ drive stall forcing them to punt with 1:16 remaining in the game. Manna from heaven for a QB like Brees it appeared, but wait, what a punt. Bush downing the ball on the 1-yard line. Oh wait they’re ruling he slid a foot into the end zone. No way; I thought these plays were reviewable. Bush’s knee was clearly down.
Oh well. Here goes Brees – 80-yards to go. Now 20-yards after Coultson snares one on the Packers 20 with 20 seconds remaining. A spike from Brees sets up one last play with 3 seconds on the clock. Nail-biter. Brees had all the time in the world and only a heavy handed pass interference prevented the score.
The penalty is called and the Saints … the Saints are still alive and are now at the 1-yard line.
The Pack stop ’em. Ingram slams into the goal line pile-up and the Pack win as time expires; brilliant game. Bring on the rest.
The sight of defensive back, Tramon Williams, leaving the field with a shoulder injury deep in the 4th quarter was disappointing but after a performance like tonight against one of the league’s premier teams, Packers fans can remain optimistic of going to back-to-back Super Bowls.