By Jason Keidel
In what many football fans considered a preview of the NFC title game, the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks kicked off the NFL season in grand fashion. Arguably the NFC’s two best clubs played on the majestic turf of Lambeau Field.
While both teams feature Pro Bowl talent on offense — especially on Green Bay’s pyrotechnic passing attack — the game was shockingly scoreless as the clock inched toward halftime. No one was stunned by Seattle’s robust defense, which is arguably the best in the NFL — and just got exponentially better with the addition of Pro Bowl tackle Sheldon Richardson. But the Packers’ defense was equally stout, matching Seattle drive for drive.
All the old-school, smash-mouth football led to an unfamiliar sight on the scoreboard, with 57 total plays to get three total points at halftime, and an incongruous final score of 17-9.
What does it mean? It has to help Green Bay knowing they’ve beaten Seattle three times in a row, once in each of the last three years. And this game could double as a tiebreaker come playoff time. Green Bay and Seattle enjoy the two best home-field advantages in the league. Green Bay’s Frozen Tundra is at its frozen best in January, while Seattle’s acoustic splendor, led by their symbolic “12th Man” gives foes more than a few migraines.
Both teams seemed to loosen up — a little — and find their legs, and some rhythm, in the second half. But it was the Packers who found the end zone, plowing their way to a win before a typically packed stadium.
Maybe the game didn’t have the expected, volcanic scoring output we expected, but it was exciting and well played, nonetheless. Though it reinforced the Packers’ advantage at home, it may also have exposed the few critical flaws the Seahawks have.
For all of Seattle’s defensive intensity, they still have troubling holes in their offensive line and running game. And it showed. When Russell Wilson leads the club in rushing, with 40 yards, there is cause for concern. C.J. Prosise had just 11 yards, and Eddie Lacy, who was brought here, coincidentally, from Green Bay, totaled just three yards on five carries.
It was also telling that Wilson ran for his life much of the game, sacked four times and hurried many more. Wilson also completed just 51.9 percent of his passes, for 158 yards, with no touchdowns. Such are the byproducts of a leaky line, which has haunted Seattle for several years.
Aaron Rodgers fared much better. The Packers’ all-world QB had a first-half passer rating around 65, then nearly doubled it in the second half (110). Rodgers may have thrown a rather rare interception in the first 30 minutes, but he still notched another 300-yard game (311 yards, to be exact). As Troy Aikman — who knows a little something about NFL offenses — said during the broadcast, the first few games can be a little sloppy, particularly on offense, where precision is essential. Maybe it takes some QBs a few weeks to find their groove, but it takes Rodgers a half-hour.
When points are at a premium, time of possession is key. And Green Bay held the ball for over 39 minutes — including 12 minutes in the fourth quarter — with Seattle keeping the ball for just under 21 minutes.
But what makes Rodgers special can’t be computed by a box score or a new metric. No one makes the sublime look so simple. Consider their drive at the end of the third quarter. On third and 11, deep in their own territory, Rodgers darted for a first down, keeping the drive alive. Then, from the Seahawks’ 32-yard-line, Rodgers found his chance to strike. Seeing that Seattle had 12 men on the field, he broke the huddle quickly, hurried his troops to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball just before the 12th Seahawk could sprint to the sideline.
Rodgers then fired a flawless spiral to Jordy Nelson, nestling the ball nicely over two defenders, into Nelson’s open arms. Play over. Game over. Rodgers has now thrown 12 touchdowns on free plays over the last 10 years, the most on the NFL.
But more than scores or stats, this was a game more for the fans than reporters. It was the masses, not the media, that rejoiced over the return of pro football. And you could not have found a more pastoral or poignant setting than Green Bay, Wisconsin, the ancestral home of the modern NFL.
Though the Frozen Tundra was warmer than the romantic, frigid form that has come to define it, there was still a regal feel to the game. And as the sun set on a perfect, late-summer day, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson scrambled through the shadows, tossing spirals on the run, into the sun, as only they can. And, as always, Rodgers was a little better than anyone else.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.