Saints dominate Packers in season opener
Published 12:11 am Monday, September 13, 2021
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston and the hurricane-displaced Saints looked right at home in northeast Florida — no doubt to the delight of fans rebuilding homes and lives back in New Orleans.
Winston passed for five touchdowns, New Orleans intercepted reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers twice, and the Saints kicked off the post-Drew Brees era with a strikingly dominant 38-3 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
“We knew that even though some people don’t have power, they’re going to find a way to watch the Saints,” linebacker and captain Demario Davis said. “That’s just what this team means to the city — and the city means the same to us.”
The game, originally scheduled for the Superdome, was moved while the New Orleans area continues to clean up wreckage left by Hurricane Ida, which struck southeast Louisiana as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 29, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the same region.
After canceling their final preseason game and practicing for two weeks in the Dallas area, the Saints looked as sharp and inspired as any club with such distractions could have hoped.
“That was for the city,” Winston said. “We did that for them. We knew how much it would mean to get a great victory for that region. They’ve been through so much. … Hats off to them for their resilience, because they motivated us. They inspired us to come out there and ball.”
Winston, who led the NFL with 30 interceptions in his last season as a starter with Tampa Bay in 2019, was largely judicious and accurate in going an efficient 14-of-20 for 148 yards without an interception. New Orleans also rushed for 171 yards, and did not punt in the first half.
“Drew always preached, it’s about the decision, not the result,” Winston said, alluding to last season, when he served as a reserve and understudy to Brees in an effort to improve the long-term trajectory of his up-and-down career. “Sometimes the decision is throwing the ball away, sometimes the decision is running, tucking. Sometimes the decision may be taking a sack.”
Winston didn’t take a sack, but did take off and run for a few key third-down conversions in the first half.
The only risky throw that backfired on him — a deflected pass caught by Packers defensive back Darnell Savage in the end zone — was negated by a contested roughing-the-passer penalty called against edge rusher Z’Darius Smith.
The penalty set up the second touchdown catch of the game by Juwan Johnson, who came in with four career catches and was converted from receiver to a tight end this offseason.
On the day before his 25th birthday, Johnson also converted a screen pass into a 12-yard, first-down gain on fourth-and-7 in the second quarter, when the game was still in doubt. He capped that drive with a leaping catch in the end zone on fourth-and-2. The two fourth-down conversions highlighted a pivotal 14-play drive that consumed 10 minutes.
“You’ve got to pick your spots where you want to be aggressive and it’s a little bit easier on that end of the field,” Payton said. “I felt pretty good about the calls.”
Green Bay fans seemed to outnumber Saints fans in a crowd announced at 35,242 for what was officially a Saints home game. But they left disappointed in a day that could not have gone much worse for Rodgers, who was pulled with nearly 11 minutes left.
As time expired, the remaining Saints fans joined in triumphant chants of “Who Dat!” that echoed throughout the stadium.
“This is a good kick in the you-know-where,” said Rodgers, who finished 15-of-28 for 133 yards and no TDs. “We felt like we were going to go up and down the field on whoever they have and that obviously wasn’t the case.”
Opening the third quarter down 17-3, the Packers squandered a chance to trim their deficit when Rodgers’ wobbly pass under pressure was intercepted by rookie defensive back Paulson Adebo at the New Orleans 7 early in the third quarter.
On Green Bay’s next drive, Marcus Williams intercepted Rodgers’ deep overthrow and returned it to the Packers 12, setting up Winston’s 10-yard TD to Chris Hogan.
“Every team has a game like this,” said Packers running back Aaron Jones, who was limited to 9 yards on five carries. “It’s better to get it out now.”