So, in the end, maybe it was all a long con by Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, part of Green Bay's grand plan for its 2017 season opener against Seattle.
Stymied by the Seahawks' staunch defense and showing neither inclination nor ability to move the ball on offense, the Packers had been held scoreless at halftime, their high-octane offense grounded for the first 40 or so minutes on Sunday. The running game was stalled, receivers couldn’t get separation, the offensive line looked helpless, Rodgers missed throws and Green Bay punted on five possessions in a row.
But after recovering a Seahawks fumble on their 6-yard line and scoring via a Ty Montgomery run one play later, to take a 7-6 lead over equally inept-on-offense Seattle early in the third quarter, the Packers seemed sparked. Perhaps their stagnant, predictable and ineffective early playcalling had just been a patient setup – don’t show too much; lull them into a false sense of security – to deploy a varied, creative and productive offense later on, leading to the eventual 17-9 win over the Seahawks at Lambeau Field.
Of course, that’s not really what happened. McCarthy and Rodgers regularly preach starting fast, not falling behind, playing with high energy and early aggression. They just needed to get around to being the offense everyone thinks they are, and luckily the Seahawks accommodated their sluggishness.
Including Montgomery’s score, the Packers finished the game touchdown, touchdown, field goal – sustaining drives with a no-huddle offense, short passes to open up longer ones, adaptive offensive line movements and a finally in-rhythm Rodgers. In the end, Green Bay dominated the time of possession (39:13 to 20:47) and total plays (74 to 48), two stats McCarthy pointed to as crucial to the result.
Rodgers – who struggled in the first half with off-target throws, pitiful protection and an offense rendered one-dimensional by the Seahawks’ imposing defensive front – ultimately looked pretty Rodgers-like. He was 28 of 42 for 311 yards with one touchdown and an interception, taking four sacks for 25 yards and finishing with an 86.5 passer rating.
After Seattle lost starting cornerback Jeremy Lane to ejection, for an alleged punch thrown on teammate Nazair Jones’ interception, its secondary struggled to contain Green Bay’s wide receivers. Randall Cobb caught nine passes for 85 yards, Jordy Nelson had seven receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown, Davante Adams added three for 47 and new tight end Martellus Bennett hauled in three Rodgers throws for 43 yards. Montgomery, who had four receptions for 39 yards, carried a whopping 19 times for just 54 yards (2.8 average) and his score, many of his runs seemingly born of McCarthy’s demand for offensive balance.
"First half was terrible; I didn’t play great," Rodgers said after the game. "Second half, we got a little bit going. I loved the second half; we played good in the second half. Marty (Bennett) got going, Randall had a great game … Jordy was fantastic, and I was a little more efficient. First half I was off; I was making some bad throws."
McCarthy mentioned the challenge due to poor field position and said the tempo was up and down, which impacted the offensive performance. But he said he was "very impressed" with the offense’s long scoring drives in the fourth quarter and called it "a fun game to win."
Rodgers said he got into a groove as the contest wore on, praised McCarthy’s playcalling and even asserted that second-year right tackle Kyle Murphy, who replaced injured Bryan Bulaga, "did a really nice job."
But do you know who did a really nice job? The defense, which limited a perennial NFC playoff team to 225 total yards and nine points. The Packers got four sacks and forced the Daniels fumble that McCarthy called "definitely the momentum turning point."
"This really started with our defense," McCarthy said. "I thought our defense played at an extremely high level. You hold an offense to nine points in today’s NFL, that speaks volumes. They’re playing at a real high level.
"Very impressed with our defense, and it started at the line of scrimmage. I feel strongly that our defense definitely got off on the right foot."
McCarthy also made sure to laud the Packers fans at Lambeau Field – there was some booing heard amid the mid-game offensive incompetence – noting the "incredible atmosphere," the "awesome energy" and "their enthusiasm." But, besides the home crowd’s cheers, what else was notable from Green Bay’s 17-9 win over Seattle in Week 1?
Defensive end Mike Daniels was a beast Sunday. The fiery veteran, ranked No. 84 on NFL.com’s preseason list of the league’s Top 100 players, was a disruptive, destructive, penetrating and playmaking force. By far the Packers’ best defensive player on the field – linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry and safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix may get more attention, but Daniels is more consistently impactful – Daniels finished with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss and the forced fumble of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
"I thought Mike was dominant," McCarthy said after the game. "It seemed to me he was in the backfield all day."
Green Bay’s guards. Murphy, a 2016 sixth-round draft pick making his first start as a game-day replacement at right tackle, certainly had his struggles, but the Packers figured he would. Often, they gave him help, in the form of extra blockers, tight ends and chipping running backs. Murphy was beaten often, especially in the first half, but that was expected and mostly mitigated.
It was the interior offensive line that really did damage. Left guard Lane Taylor was trashed for a sack; center Corey Linsley grounded a third-down snap that Rodgers had to dive on, ending a series; right guard and veteran free agent signee Jahri Evans, frequently destroyed by the Seahawks’ defensive line, was called twice for holding. Left tackle David Bakhtiari is first class; when Bulaga returns, he’ll hold his own at right tackle. But Green Bay needs a much more encouraging display from its inside linemen moving forward, particularly given the paucity of proven players behind them.
This isn’t a sexy pick, but for too long a while he had outsized influence on the game. Punter Justin Vogel, an undrafted rookie playing in his first NFL game, had to kick away on five straight possessions in the first half, and he displayed a strong leg and accurate placement in various circumstances.
Vogel punted five times for a 43.8-yard average, with a 57-yard long and one placed inside the 20, pinning back the Seahawks and helping fight the field-position battle. He and the Packers’ punt coverage unit allowed just one return by Seattle's dangerous Tyler Lockett for only seven yards. It was good work by the rook.
(Mike McCarthy isn't renowned for his play-calling, having fired and then rehired himself for that role in the past, but he does try his best. Here we rate his coaching performance, on a score from one to 10 McCarthy heads.)
As we alluded to at the beginning, McCarthy’s early playcalling left many Packers fans scratching their (Mac) heads. On too many plays in the first half, Rodgers would drop back to look for receivers running intermediate or long routes, immediately be under pressure because of poor protection and have to throw the ball away. The rush calls felt obligatory, rather than sincere attempts to challenge the defense that was daring Green Bay to run.
In addition, McCarthy burned a timeout almost immediately in the first quarter, then used his other two stoppages with Seattle on offense late in the second quarter – presumably to preserve time for his own offense to score if it got the ball back. But instead of the Packers regaining possession, Wilson led his team down the field and had the time to set up a field goal that gave the Seahawks a 3-0 halftime lead. To his credit, McCarthy made adjustments and got his offense rolling to beat a tough opponent in a rusty-looking season opener, so we’ll give him six heads.
A win is a win.
After years of Rodgers and the offense carrying the Packers, this season it will be Dom Capers’ defense that leads Green Bay to glory.
"You gotta remember he’s losing a step, getting a little older." – Aaron Rodgers, smirking, on overthrowing Jordy Nelson on an incomplete free-play long pass
The Packers didn’t play very well, at least on offense, and they still won the game. That’s the kind of thing good teams have the luxury of saying, and Green Bay should be a good team this season. Perhaps Rodgers, who complained afterward of being kicked in the shin and stepped on, was hobbled and rusty, after hardly playing in the preseason. Perhaps Bulaga’s absence and the inexperience of the running backs was more pronounced than expected. But the defense – including the much-maligned-in-2016 secondary – more than made up for many mistakes. We haven’t seen a really good defense in Green Bay in several years; could we be witnessing one in 2017?
We can say Murphy held up well enough and sing the praises of No. 12 and his scrambling ability, but four sacks on Rodgers is too many, especially because he took several more hits after getting rid of the ball. General manager Ted Thompson kept 10 offensive linemen on the original 53-man roster for a reason: he doesn’t have quality depth, so he’s at least trying to have quantity depth. But Green Bay’s prospects rest on having a healthy Rodgers; if he’s under that much pressure all year, this season won’t be a successful one.
The 1-0 Packers travel to Atlanta next week, where they lost in the NFC Championship Game last season, to face the 1-0 Falcons in a Sunday Night Football primetime matchup at 7:30 p.m. CT on NBC.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.