Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdowns as the reigning Super Bowl champions, Green Bay Packers beat the New Orleans Saints 42-34 on Thursday in the opening game of the NFL season.
Rodgers became the first player to throw three touchdowns in the first quarter of an opener since Buffalo’s Jack Kemp in 1964.
“We knew if we gave Aaron time he’s usually able to pick defenses apart,” Packers center Scott Wells said. “We protected him well and he played great.”
Rodgers completed 27 of 35 passes for 312 yards and sparked the Packers to the most points by any reigning Super Bowl champion in a season opener.
“We went out and played well. We showed what this offensive can do,” Green Bay receiver Donald Driver said. “This team is dangerous. If we keep playing at this level, the sky is the limit.”
Green Bay, whose record 13 NFL titles include four in the Super Bowl era, celebrated last February’s title-game triumph over Pittsburgh and began the business of adding yet another championship banner at historic Lambeau Field.
“It was a good start for us,” Rodgers said. “It’s always great to come back at home. The fans are great. But we’re (only) 1-0. We move on.”
In a game dominated by offensive playmakers, Brees flipped his third touchdown pass of the night to Jimmy Graham from five yards to pull New Orleans within 42-34 with 2:15 remaining.
Driver recovered the Saints’ onside kick attempt but the Packers were unable to run out the clock and punted to New Orleans, giving Brees a chance to equalize.
“You have to applaud him for the effort,” Rodgers said of Brees. “Drew was on a roll. He played incredible. We were able to just hold on at the end.”
Brees completed five passes in a row to march the Saints to the Green Bay 10-yard line with three seconds to play.
His last toss went incomplete but referees ruled defensive pass interference against Green Bay, giving the Saints the ball at the Packers 1-yard line with an untimed down, one last play, to score a touchdown.
Green Bay’s defense stopped Mark Ingram’s run up the middle for no gain and the Packers had the victory.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I was proud of the way we hung in there. There was a lot of momentum that went back and forth.
“There’s a lot of work for us to do. The progress we make from week one to week two will be important.”
The match-up of the past two Super Bowl winners kicked off a 2011 campaign that many feared might never happen when club owners locked out players in March. The fight on how to divide $9.3 billion in annual revenues was settled in July after a four-and-a-half-month shut-down and only one pre-season game was lost.
Rodgers threw touchdown passes of seven yards to Greg Jennings, three yards to Jordy Nelson and 32 yards to Randall Cobb to give the Packers a 21-7 lead after the first quarter. A 17-yard James Stark touchdown run gave them a 28-17 half-time lead.
Brees completed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem in the first quarter, John Kasay kicked a 30-yard field goal and Darren Sproles returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown for the Saints in the first half.
Kasay kicked a 38-yard field goal 6:20 into the third quarter to pull the Saints back to 28-20, but the Packers struck back on the ensuing kickoff.
Cobb, making his NFL debut, returned the ball 108 yards for a touchdown to boost the Packers’ lead to 15 points and matching an NFL record for the longest kickoff return in league history in the process.
But just 92 seconds later, Brees answered for the Saints, connecting with Devery Henderson on a 29-yard pass that pulled New Orleans within 35-27.
“We hit a lull there in the third quarter,” Rodgers said. “We just couldn’t get our rhythm back.”
After New Orleans failed on a fourth-down play early in the fourth quarter, Green Bay drove 93 yards and took a 42-27 lead on John Kuhn’s one-yard touchdown run, setting up the closing drama.