GREEN BAY, Wis. — New season, same ol' lesson from Aaron Rodgers.
Do not give him a free play, because he will usually make you pay.
The Seattle Seahawks know better, but it happened anyway late in the third quarter at Lambeau Field on Sunday, when Rodgers fired a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson after the Seattle defense was flagged for too many men on the field. (The penalty was called on linebacker Terence Garvin, who was too late getting off the field during a substitution.)
Sure, one play does not make an entire game. But one play sure made a huge difference in the Packers’ 17-9 victory.
How many times have we seen this? It’s classic Rodgers. This time, on third-and-2, he went for the jugular as Nelson was lined tight in the slot to his right, matched against a linebacker, Bobby Wagner.
After containing Rodgers for most of the afternoon — and punishing him with a relentless pass rush — the Seahawks made a key mistake that you can never commit if you’re going to beat him in his own house.
The Seahawks had a chance. They shut Green Bay out in the first half, when Rodgers was sacked four times and had a pedestrian passer rating of 65.2. By the end, though, that proud, deep, talented defense appeared to be worn out by all of the energy expended with the challenge.
The free-play mistake, which followed an earlier mishap — Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson’s third-quarter fumble, which set up Green Bay’s first touchdown — was too much to overcome.
It was only Week 1, but it sure felt a lot like a playoff game between two teams with legitimate Super Bowl hopes.
You knew the Seahawks defense had a gritty effort in them. For four of the past five seasons, they've allowed the fewest points in the NFL. The unit is deeper, too, with tackle Sheldon Richardson added to a powerful front. And Earl Thomas, arguably the NFL’s best safety, is back from the broken leg that prematurely ended his 2016 season.
But Green Bay’s defense? Who knew their unit would show up so impressively, too?
When last seen, Green Bay was being shredded by Matt Ryan and the high-flying Atlanta Falcons offense in the NFC title game. In the aftermath of that 44-21 playoff rout, when the Packers allowed 493 yards, questions persisted about whether it was time to move on from D-coordinator Dom Capers.
But led by lineman Mike Daniels, the Pack allowed just 225 yards to Seattle, which never reached the end zone.
Hey, it’s early. But if the defenses keeps this up, both of these teams should have a great shot of winning it all again.
Especially Green Bay, if opponents are prone to give Rodgers some free plays along the way.