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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This is not a state line you see from Aaron Rodgers every day: 15-of-28 passes 133 yards without touchdowns and two interceptions.
Nor is this a statement you hear every day: “I played badly.”
And no one at the Green Bay Packers saw it coming.
After the second season in a row with 13 wins, another straight NFC Championship appearance and with Rodgers back after his period of dissatisfaction – and apparently in shape during a sharp training camp – the reigning NFL MVP and his team bowed out of the regular season opener against the host New Orleans Saints without much fighting in a 38-3 loss Sunday.
The 35-point loss the Packers suffered is the worst in a season opener by a team that played in either the AFC or NFC Championship Game the previous season.
“They were ready to play; absolutely embarrassed of us today,” said Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who also called the loss humiliating.
Rodgers had a slightly different view.
“I want to let him use those words, and I want to use, ‘this is just a game,'” Rodgers said. “We played poorly. I played poorly. Offensively we did not execute very well. One match. We have 16 to go.”
Rodgers used the “We-played-bad-I-played-bad” line twice during his post-game comments.
With his entire collection of skill-position players – plus a reunion he initiated with receiver Randall Cobb – Rodgers did not even see the finish line. He left with 10:46 left in the game and a 36.8 passing rating that gave way to Jordan Love for the second year quarterback first NFL regular season action.
And it was not like Rodgers did not have time to throw himself behind an offensive line that featured two rookie starters (center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman) plus their left guard (Elgton Jenkins) filling in for All-Pro left tackling David Bakhtiari (who will miss at least the first six games while recovering from ACL surgery).
Rodgers completed only 4-of-15 passes as he had more than 2.5 seconds to throw. Both of his interceptions came with at least as long – including that in the red zone, as a touchdown would have made it a 17-10 game – and it was his worst completion rate on those throws since at least 2016, when NFL Next Genstatistik first started To track.
Rodgers discounted the absence of any playing time in the preseason as the reason for the performance, and no one even brought up the fact that he skipped the entire program out of season. But he would not discount the notion that the Packers came into this neutral game – which had a flock of at least half Packers fans among the 35,242 at TIAA Bank Field – overconfident and underprepared.
“I think there’s probably some of that,” Rodgers said. “We probably felt like we were going to go up and down the track on the one they had out there, and that was obviously not the case today. I give [Saints defensive coordinator] Dennis Allen much credit. I think I’ve always thought he’s a really good defensive mind. They had a good plan. It was playing a lot of two-shell and slowing us down with the front. They did a good job with that. “
Both Rodgers and LaFleur said the counter to the defensive look is the running game, yet their running backs were carried just 14 times (including only five in 14 yards by Aaron Jones).
“We did not run the ball; we did not even try to run the ball enough,” LaFleur said. “So it’s my fault.”
In the end, it fell as the worst loss in Rodger’s career as a starter, regular season or playoff, and just the third time the Packers have scored three or fewer points in one of his starts. It was also just his third career game without touchdown passes and multiple interceptions.
All this against a team they beat last season 37-30 without their No. 1 receiver Davante Adams, who had a team-high catch of 56 yards on Sunday.
That it happened in the season opener could have been a shock, but for Rodgers it was easier to take than if it happened along the way.
“I think easier,” he said. “We come from a couple of NFC championship games and of course we are fine with the unit we have attacked … So this is a good kick in you-know-where. Hopefully we get to go in the right direction at home again and plays a division opponent [Detroit] next week. “