There are 10 weekdays left in 2011 and to ring in the new year I’ll look back at the best games that I saw in sports all year long. We’ll start with #10, the NFL opening night match-up between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers raised the banner on their 2010 Super Bowl championship that night and played host to the previous NFL champions, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. What ensued was an awesome aerial display by two of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers was nearly flawless for the Pack in the 1st half
Rodgers started off the 2011 by going 5 for 5 on the Packers’ opening drive, culminated by a 7 yard TD pass to Greg Jennings. After a Marques Colston fumble Rodgers quickly got the Packers back in the end zone with a 3 yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson. Brees got his team right back in the game by throwing a 36 yard pass to Darren Sproles followed by a 31 yard TD strike to Robert Meachem three plays later. Rodgers went back to work and engineered another quick TD drive by the end of the quarter with a 32 yard TD throw to his newest toy, rookie wide receiver Randall Cobb. At the end of one quarter it was 21-7 Packers. Aaron Rodgers was 14 of 15 for 188 yards and 3 TDs. In the first quarter. Brees was 4 out of 6 with 87 yards and a TD but he had the ball to start the 2nd quarter.
Brees started the quarter by executing a pretty 13 play drive in which he went 7 for 9 with 47 yards but he could not get into the end zone so the Saints settled for a 30-yard John Kasay field goal to make the score 21-10. Rodgers got the ball back but for the first time in the game the defense held the other team to a punt. He wouldn’t have to wait long to get the ball back however as Darren Sproles took the ensuing punt back 72 yards for a touchdown, making the score 21-17. Rodgers and the Packers got the ball back with 8:37 and decided to respond to Brees and the Saints’ lengthy drive to start the quarter with a methodical drive of their own. They ran a 14 play drive in which Rodgers was 4 out of 6 for 39 yards. Running back James Starks took the ball from 17 yards out to make the game 28-17 Packers at the two-minute warning. The Saints two-minute drive ended after a holding penalty on guard Jahri Evans forced a punt. At the half it was 28-17 Packers. Aaron Rodgers was 18 for 23 for 227 yards and 3 TDs. Drew Brees was trying to keep pace, going 15 for 22 and 161 yards and a TD. And there was still a whole half to play.
Rookie Randall Cobb electrified the Lambeau crowd with a 108 yard kickoff return
Brees and the Saints started out the 2nd half with another one of those methodical drives, running 14 offensive plays and again they settled for only a field goal. Brees was 4 out of 6 for 39 yards on the drive but took as sack on third down that set up the 38 yard field goal by John Kasay to make the score 28-20. Like Rodgers earlier, Brees didn’t realize he would be back at it so soon. Packers rookie Randall Cobb took the ensuing kickoff 8 yards deep in the end zone and ran it all the way back for a 108 yard touchdown. The Packers led 35-20. Not to be outdone, the Saints’ Darren Sproles took the next kickoff 57 yards to set Brees up at the Green Bay 46. Three plays later Brees connected with Devery Henderson on a 29 yard touchdown to make the score 35-27. Green Bay went three and out for the 2nd time in the game and Sproles was at it again, taking the punt 20 yards to the Green Bay 49. Brees took to another short field but this time he could not get in the end zone. He could not shake the Green Bay pass rush on a 4th and 1 play on the Green Bay 7 and the ball went back to the Packers on downs. Rodgers and the Pack took over at their own 7 and started down the field. 6 plays later they were at the New Orleans 40 and the 3rd quarter was over. Through three quarters Rodgers was 22 for 29 for 279 yards and 3 TDs and Brees was 22 for 31 with 261 yards and 2 TDs. The Packers lead 35-27 with 15 minutes to go.
Rodgers and Brees met after the game
Rodgers continued the drive into the fourth quarter with 6 more plays to match the 6 from the previous quarter, the last being a 1 yard TD dive by FB John Kuhn, making the score 42-27 with 11:50 to go. New Orleans could only manage a three and out on the next possession, giving the ball back to the Packers with 10:27 left. The Packers managed 7 plays and one first down before they had to give the ball back to Brees and the Saints with 5:35 left. Brees returned to form, engineering a 12 play drive in which he went 5 for 10 for 73 yards, the last 5 coming on a TD throw to breakout star tight end Jimmy Graham. The score was 42-34 Green Bay, the Saints needed a TD and a two point conversion to tie. Their defense did their job, holding the Packers to a three and out. The Saints took over at their own 20 with 1:08 left needing to get into the end zone to keep the game going. It was a almost an impossible feat, going so far in so little time. Brees was methodical, hitting 5 passes in a row for 71 yards, taking the ball to the Green Bay 9 with 3 seconds left in the game. Brees had one more shot. He took the snap and scrambled around before tossing the ball to Darren Sproles in the middle of the end zone. Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk jumped on Sproles’ back before the ball even got there, committing a pass interference penalty and giving the Saints one more shot with no time on the clock from the 1 yard line. All they needed was 1 yard. Instead of putting the game on the shoulders of former league Offensive Player of the Year Brees the Saints called a run up the middle with rookie Mark Ingram. He was stuffed and the Packers took the opening game of the 2011 season 42-34. Rodgers finished 27 of 35 for 312 yards and 3 TDs while Brees went 32 of 49 for 419 yards and 3 TDs. Neither guy threw an interception.
14 weeks later the Packers are 13-1 and the Saints are 11-3, the top two teams in the NFC. There is a likelihood that there could be a rematch between the two teams in the NFC Championship game. That game, however, will be played in 2012. This was the best regular season game that I saw in the NFL this season and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again next year.
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