GREEN BAY – Here’s one to file away from Sunday’s 17-9 season-opening victory, because it could mean a lot as 2017 progresses.
Aaron Rodgers didn’t put together an Aaron Rodgers-like drive until he got the ball with 4:20 left in the third quarter against Seattle.
The score at the time? Packers 7, Seahawks 6.
Rodgers was quick to praise Green Bay’s defense for not only keeping the Packers in the game, but in the lead, when not much was going right on offense.
The early struggles saw one streak of Rodgers’ broken, but fortunately not another. His first-quarter interception was his first pick in 251 regular-season pass attempts, the longest of his career and 43 shy of Bart Starr’s franchise mark.
As defensive lineman Nazair Jones took off in the other direction, Rodgers managed, luckily, to prevent disaster.
“I was just glad it wasn’t a pick-six. I think I’ve got a pretty good streak going right now,” said Rodgers, who has thrown only one of those in his career, back in 2009 in a loss at Tampa Bay.
Fortunately, he could joke about it, as Rodgers was shoved in the back by Seattle’s Cliff Avril while chasing Jones, and the penalty wiped out the TD return.
“It would have been tough to give up a pick-six to a lineman who outran me, particularly since I’ve been working on my conditioning with my running,” he said, smiling.
“Did they call the block in the back on me? That’s what happens when you chase down the play, I guess.”
Seattle cornerback Jeremy Lane was ejected after the play for punching Green Bay receiver Davante Adams in a scrum on the ground, an early taste of the bad blood between these frequent opponents who have now met five times in the last three years and six days.
Tempers then stayed relatively calm until the fourth quarter, when Rodgers took a hit from linebacker K.J. Wright on a diving scramble up the middle for a big first down.
New tight end Martellus Bennett took exception and was flagged 15 yards for an after-the-whistle shove of Wright. The first down still counted, though, and so did the gesture.
“It meant a lot to me, it really did,” Rodgers said, reminiscing about times last year in Minnesota and Tennessee when teammates came to his defense after questionable hits.
“Those are moments you take with you for a long time. I told Marty right away thanks. I didn’t feel like the hit was a painful hit that K.J. gave me, but I love Marty for doing that.”
Rodgers’ had Bennett’s back, too, when asked about his new teammate raising a fist during Sunday’s national anthem while Bennett’s older brother, Michael, sat on the other sideline. The anthem moments were in recognition of a scary incident with Las Vegas police involving the Seahawks’ Bennett last month.
“I support Marty 100 percent in just about everything he does,” Rodgers said. “Marty and I have become fast friends. I respect him a lot.
“As you guys know, he’s a very interesting, creative person. He has opinions that aren’t just based on something he read on Twitter or a cliché that he’s seen in a book. It’s things he cares about, he researches, he feels strongly about, and I’ll back him whatever he wants to do.”
Bennett made up for his penalty just a couple of plays later, timing his release into the flat perfectly to create open space in front of him after a short reception. The 26-yard gain moved the chains one final time and sealed the win.
Rodgers pointed that out as one of many examples of the “really smart” plays his weapons make in the heat of battle. Effective route reads and extra blocks on the perimeter all played into getting things going against a difficult defense.
Rodgers used his own smarts as well, of course, such as glancing to his right to make sure the side judge threw the flag for 12 men on the field before firing deep to Jordy Nelson for a free-play touchdown.
So while a victory over a perennial NFC contender is one “you’re thankful for come December and January,” according to Rodgers, the vibe surrounding the win is worth processing as well.
Whether talking about the defense setting the tone, the skill players doing the little things, or Bennett standing up for his brother and his teammates, the Packers began a new season as a team both willing and able to count on one another, in any situation.
This one was a true team win. There was no single individual star, and that makes it as good a start as any.
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