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12 Sep 2011

NFL Newbie: Ravens ripping of Pittsburgh highlight of thrilling opening weekend

I have never watched an entire NFL game outside of the Superbowl, thinking it was the only game worth seeing. Could I have been any more wrong?

To say it started off quietly with the defending champion Green Bay Packers hosting the 2009 champion New Orleans Saints would be the understatement of the year. The Packers prevailed 42-34 in what was a battle between two of the league's top Quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Brees was always going to have to put in an outstanding night's work to lead his team to victory, and he did his part, throwing for 419 yards and 3 touchdowns. Rodgers also had a standout performance with 312 yards and 3 touchdowns.

The first quarter didn't really show what this game had in store as the Packers stormed out to a 14-yard lead, Rodgers first finding Greg Jennings and then Jordy Nelson before Brees and Meachem split the Green Bay defense open up the centre to halve the deficit. A third touchdown pass from Rodgers found Randall Cobb who shook off all comers to complete a 32-yard run into the end-zone, re-establishing the 14-point Packer lead.

The 2nd period was a more even affair on the scoreboard, the Saints started chipping away at the Green Bay lead with a 30-yard John Kasay field goal followed by Darren Sproles catching the Packer punt and returning from 72 to bring the contest back to life. Rodgers took command of the 2nd quarter, combining multiple times with his receivers for steady gains, before finally finding James Starks for a 17-yard touchdown. The touchdown ensuring the Packers could go into the locker room leading 28-17 and feeling pretty good about their performance, despite not having had any team workouts over the summer thanks to a lengthy lockout, a move that some predicted would result in a lack of coordination and timing in offense.

The 3rd quarter saw the scoreboard continue to creep upwards, first another Kasay field goal, before the Saints kicked off the play of the young season. Rookie Randall Cobb, already with his first NFL touchdown, caught the kick off deep in his own end-zone. Instead of kneeling and heading up to the Green Bay 20, Cobb ran from the catch at the 108-yard line, straight through a whole group of Saints defenders, all well blocked, before barrel-rolling over one defender in what has to go down as one of the more audacious moves in a long time and outrunning yet more Saints to complete a record 108-yard return for a touchdown that will live long in the memory of Cobb and Packers fans alike. Despite the impact of such an impressive play, the Saints regrouped, 2009 Superbowl MVP Brees connected with Devery Henderson to bag his 2nd touchdown of the evening, once again trying to breathe life into the New Orleans fightback.

Randall Cobb on his way to a record 108-yard kick-off return TD
Green Bay took control of the ball for the final 3 minutes of the 3rd, working their way up to the NO 40-yard line courtesy of 36 yards from the Rodgers/Jennings partnership. At the start of the final period, working from the 40, the Packers set about twisting the knife, gaining all the way to the 1-yard line before John Kuhn completed the play with another touchdown, one which looked like the game-winner.

With the win disappearing out of site, Brees once again dragged the Saints back into contention with a series of plays that took New Orleans from their 24-yard line all the way to a touchdown, closing the Saints to 34-42. Ultimately it was an outstanding defensive play that secured the win for the Packers. The Saints had made it to within 9 yards of a potential game-winning touchdown when Brees' attempted end-zone pass resulted in an 8 yard penalty given against Green Bay, advancing the Packers to the 1-yard line, presenting the Saints with a do-or-die play with the game clock reading 0:00. Brees dumped the football to Ingram who dived for the line only to be met first by a fantastic tackle from Clay Matthews, joined by Morgan Burnett and half the Packer team piling on to make the result a done deal.

Welcome to the NFL then.


Weekend Roundup:
  •  The best performance and most surprising had to come from rookie Panthers QB Cam Newton. Newton on his NFL debut blew away Peyton Manning's (nothing's gone right) debut passing yard record of 302 by racking up a staggering 422 yards for 2 touchdowns, along with rushing for one of his own. Totally unexpected, Newton has just arrived on the scene in stunning fashion. Watch this space.
  • The Buffalo Bills pulled out a shock result, utterly destroying a dismal Kansas Chiefs' outfit 41-7 in Kansas, an embarrassing start for a team much more capable than this result suggests.
  • The Bears were expected to run the Atlanta Falcons close at Soldier Field, but Chicago put in a great afternoon to triumph 30-6, Jay Cutler showing he can still work the magic that took the Bears to the NFC championship, largely combining with Matt Forte before Brian Urlacher collected a fumble from Falcons' QB Matt Ryan and returned it for a rare defensive touchdown.
  • Sebastian Janikowski tied an NFL record for Field Goal distance, converting an a mammoth 63-yard attempt at the end of the first half. As if the achievement couldn't get any more ridiculous, Janikowski said after the game (a 23-20 Oakland win) that "to be honest, I didn't really kick it very well. It barely made it." Modesty? He has grounds to be disappointed after he nailed a scarcely believable 70-yard goal in his pre-game warm up.


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