Rodgers throws 3 TDs, Packers outlast Saints 42-34
GREEN BAY As far as Aaron Rodgers is concerned, that should just about silence any further questions about why the Green Bay Packers didn't work out as a team during the lockout.
If Thursday's season opener at Lambeau Field could be considered a referendum on the importance of those player-led team workouts, the results are in after the Packers' wild 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints: The sessions Drew Brees led over the summer weren't enough to help the Saints take down the reigning champions, and the Packers' decision not to get together as a team certainly didn't seem to hurt them.
"That was a good start for us," Rodgers joked afterward. "But I've just got to ask myself, 'What would have happened if we had had offseason workouts?' Could we have started any faster and scored more points tonight?"
Rodgers came out on top in a memorable opening-night duel with Brees. And after allowing 477 total net yards to the Saints, the Packers defense made a goal-line stand on the final play of the game.
"We had some problems defensively, but that's a very good offense and he's a great quarterback," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Brees. "Sean (Payton) does a great job on offense. This will be a great experience we can learn from."
With the Saints on the 1-yard line for one last play, Clay Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett led a swarm of Packers defenders who stopped Saints rookie running back Mark Ingram short of the goal line.
"You've got to get a yard," Ingram said. "It's goal line to win the game, got to get a yard."
Matthews was hoping for a more dominant performance, but he'll take the win.
"Obviously, you'd love to have a blowout, but I think it represents everything that we preach, which is finishing games," Matthews said. "And it comes down to the very last play — we win, or they have an opportunity to tie it up. I think it's fantastic to overcome that adversity."
Brees threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns, including a late score to Jimmy Graham that cut the lead to 8 with 2:15 left.
"I was proud of the way we hung in there and fought back," Payton said. "There will be a lot of things on tape that we've got to clean up with this first game. Credit Green Bay. They did a very good job and did all the things they needed to do to win a home game like that."
For all their yards, Brees said the Saints weren't good enough in the red zone.
"We were one of five, so we scored touchdowns just one out of five times in the red zone," Brees said. "That's not going to win you a lot of games, especially on the road in this type of environment against this kind of team."
Rodgers and Brees had big games, but Packers rookie Randall Cobb stole the show.
Cobb, a second-round draft pick out of Kentucky, caught a touchdown from Rodgers and ran a kickoff back 108 yards for a score in the third quarter — tying an NFL record for the longest kickoff return in history, set by New England's Ellis Hobbs in September 2007. It also was the Packers' first kickoff return for a touchdown since Allen Rossum in 2000.
"It was amazing," Cobb said. "The feeling of being in Lambeau Field and just having all of the guys around me coming off of the Super Bowl and just trying to do anything I can to contribute, and I certainly tried to make the most of my opportunities."
Cobb admitted he made mistakes on both touchdowns; he shouldn't have brought the kickoff out of the end zone, and he ran the wrong route on the touchdown catch.
Rodgers said he was able to adjust to Cobb's mistake on the route, again bringing up the offseason workouts — a line of questioning Rodgers clearly grew tired of during training camp.
"Surprisingly, we didn't have offseason workouts," Rodgers said. "Surprisingly, I was able to read his body language there and he made a nice catch and run for a touchdown."
Rodgers threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns.
It was a big night for Donald Driver, who tied James Lofton's Packers franchise mark for career yards receiving with 9,656. Rodgers wanted to get him the record at home.
"We tried to get him the ball again, we just didn't have an opportunity," Rodgers said.
NOTES: Packers DB Charles Woodson earned a 15-yard penalty in the third quarter, and admitted he threw a punch at a Saints player. Woodson wasn't ejected. "Yeah, I threw a punch," Woodson said. "Just got frustrated, the guy was holding me a little longer than I wanted. Nothing was said about it, referee-wise, quick enough, and I reacted. It is what it is, I guess." ... Packers S Nick Collins appeared to hurt his left arm but stayed in the game. ... Packers CB Tramon Williams went down after taking a hard hit on the right shoulder in the fourth quarter. ... Saints WR Lance Moore sat out because of a groin injury.