GREEN BAY, Wis. – He had delivered his message with chilling precision, giving all of Lambeau Field the golden-armed celebration it never got to experience last January and the back of his hand to the rest of the football world.
Yes, actions spoke louder than words for Aaron Rodgers(notes) in the first game of the 2011 season, and his first as a Super Bowl champion. But that didn’t stop the ultra-confident quarterback from talking a little smack, if only because he could.
Not long after the Packers’ 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, Rodgers and I had a short conversation at his locker. After a 27-for-35, 312-yard, three-touchdown, no-interception performance in which he looked like simply the best passer on the planet, Rodgers had one more strong-armed delivery in his arsenal.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a month,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about winning this game, and what I was gonna say afterward. Cause I’ve got a little something. For everyone.”
By everyone, Rodgers meant the fans, media members and current and former NFL players who had chastised the Packers during the lockout for failing to stage players-only workouts. The Pack would supposedly pay a price for their impudence in the form of rustiness, lack of fluidity and general imprecision while rivals whose players worked out together would open the season with a distinct advantage.
Given that theory, no team seemed better poised to benefit than the Saints, whose leader, quarterback Drew Brees(notes), held numerous de facto minicamps and even covered some of his teammates’ expenses in the process.
Zip, a nine-yard pass to Greg Jennings(notes) in the flat. Zing, a 16-yard spiral to Donald Driver(notes) on third-and-12. Whoosh, a glorious 36-yard floater to Jordy Nelson(notes) down the left sideline. Score: A seven-yard, back-shoulder beauty to Jennings for the first touchdown of 2011.
By the end of the first quarter, Rodgers had completed 14 of 15 passes – and the lone incompletion was a throwaway. He’d thrown for 188 yards and three touchdowns and had the Packers ahead 21-7, and he looked as sharp and commanding as Peyton Manning(notes) in his prime.
On a day in which Manning underwent neck surgery that could force the future Hall of Fame quarterback to miss the entire 2011 season – and, some doctors have speculated, might be career-threatening – Rodgers did nothing to ease the sidelined Colts star’s pain.
After all, Manning has long extolled the virtues of offseason workouts, telling me less than a year ago that they are “how we’ve gotten our edge over the years.”
I’m sure he’d have enjoyed the sight of Rodgers, as promised, laying waste to that presumption at his postgame press conference, answering the first question (about his fast start against the Saints) by busting out a heavy dose of sarcasm: “I’ve just got to ask myself, ‘What would have happened if we had offseason workouts? Could we have started any faster and scored more points tonight?’ “
Just to make sure his intentions were clear, Rodgers twice revisited the subject in similarly facetious fashion. When he walked back into the locker room to grab his stuff before heading out into the Wisconsin night, I asked him if, at any point over the offseason, he’d thought about getting his teammates together for a few days of workouts, if only to quiet the chorus of critics.
“Yes,” he said. “And that would have been the only reason.”
Rodgers said he spoke to veteran cornerback Charles Woodson(notes) at the team’s Super Bowl ring ceremony in June and “asked him if he wanted to get the guys together. He said he talked to his guys and they were doing what they needed to do to get ready. And that was that.”
Said Woodson: “We asked each other, ‘Do we feel like we need to do it.’ And we both said no. We feel like we’ve got great guys in this locker room who would be ready when the time came. We showed up at training camp focused and never missed a beat.”
While Woodson certainly wasn’t gloating about his unit’s performance – Brees shredded the Green Bay secondary for 419 yards and three touchdowns, and the game ended with rookie halfback Mark Ingram(notes) a foot or two away from a potential overtime-triggering score – he was pointed in his defense of his and Rodgers’ approach.
“We felt like a lot of guys [on other teams] did it just for the show,” he said. “We weren’t into that. If we’d done it, it’d be like [critics] pushed us into it.”
This was, of course, merely the first arm-wrestle of a long succession of step-to sessions. As the Saints learned last year in attempting to defend their championship, an auspicious beginning) (against Brett Favre(notes), another quarterback who wasn’t especially big on the import of offseason preparation) doesn’t necessarily predict a glorious ending.
Yet the Packers, at least for now, seem poised to be even more multi-dimensional on offense than they were during last year’s impressive postseason run, which included three road victories and a Super Bowl triumph over the Steelers.
For one thing, they had a lot of season-ending injuries in 2010, and the return of potential impact players like halfback Ryan Grant(notes) (nine carries, 40 yards) and tight end Jermichael Finley(notes) (three catches, 53 yards) is not inconsequential. Additional punch came from Kentucky wideout Randall (Don’t Call Me Tex) Cobb, who scored a pair of scintillating touchdowns: on a 32-yard catch-and-run late in the first quarter and an NFL-record-tying 108-yard kickoff return (so much for the death of that play via the moving of the tee five yards forward) after the Saints had closed to 28-20 six minutes into the second half.
Then there was the unlikely sight of second-year strong safety Morgan Burnett(notes), who missed most of last season after tearing his ACL in the team’s fourth game, lunging over the pile to help All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews(notes) make a game-saving stop of Ingram on first-and-ballgame from the Green Bay 1-yard line.
The play began with no time on the clock after an A.J. Hawk(notes) pass interference penalty in the end zone, and as Rodgers watched it unfold from the sideline, he had no desire to be granted another opportunity to show the world how stupid it was that the Packers’ lack of offseason workouts were an issue.
Said Rodgers: “I thought, ‘Aw, man, don’t let ‘em score.’–”
The Packers didn’t, and 70,555 fans at Lambeau celebrated like it was Super Sunday all over again. Suffice it to say that none of them is likely to question Rodgers’ approach to anything anytime soon.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Luke McCown(notes) will put up big numbers for the Jaguars in a victory over the Titans, making Jack Del Rio look like a mad genius – at least for a week. … Lions-mania will arrive in full force after Detroit pulls out a road victory over the Bucs. … The Ravens will do what they should have done last January but couldn't: Close the deal against the Steelers in another tight, physical battle between the AFC North rivals.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
The family room of my Northern California home, where I'll spend more than 10-plus hours watching wall-to-wall football (tough job, but someone's gotta do it) and about that many banging out Morning Rush. Year 5 of my Monday's offerings will feature some changes in both presentation and philosophy, and I know none of you will dare begin the work week without it.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. After learning that former Eagles teammates Jon Runyan(notes) compared him to Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, Terrell Owens(notes) said of Bachmann's husband, Marcus, "like my boy tells me, 'If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.' "
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
You remember the drill, right? I pick one winner a week, and that team is thereafter off-limits – and I try to last longer than I did in 2010, when I went down in Week 10 on a Cowboys upset of the Giants. To get things started, I'm going right for the jugular – or, to be less precise, the neck area – and pick against the Manning-less Colts playing the Texans in Houston. Yes, I am doubting Kerry Collins'(notes) ability to thrive in Peyton's absence, and I am in fact placing my fate in the hands of the Texans, a.k.a. The NFL's Biggest Tease. After all, I picked them to make the playoffs, at long last. What could possibly go wrong? Speaking of which, here are my Super Bowl picks, along with this week's locks and my full slate of selections in an attempt to assert superiority over Y! Sports colleagues Jason (Stone) Cole, Les (Sunshine) Carpenter and Yahoo! (Loser) Users. (And no, I don't really think Yahoo! users are losers. It's the users of other sports websites who are, obviously.)
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
Sure, you get a lot of me during the football season, what with the aforementioned return of Morning Rush, the impending resumption of 32 Questions (beginning Wednesday), the semi-regular presence of One Voice, weekly Y! Sports video offerings and, of course, this power-packed column to commemorate the end of the work week and the start of the NFL weekend. But what if you just can’t get enough of me?
It’s a question which, I know, is asked often by my wife – if by “my wife” I mean myself – and I’m confident the following plug will generate excitement even beyond the borders of my household: Throughout the year I’ll be providing bonus content on my website, Ride With Silver, which also offers an opportunity to sign up for the Silver Insider and receive even more analysis, opinion, fantasy advice and insight into the minds of some of the sports world’s most compelling figures. You may find that some of them are even more compelling than yours truly, though “my wife” will likely disagree. Also compelling: Ride With Silver’s executive editor, David Seawright, who’ll be reporting from selected games on the East Coast while attending graduate school at Georgetown, and assistant managing editor Katie Dowd, whose Daily Links have been a staple on the site all summer. I expect that someday in the not too distant future, you’ll be navigating directly to these talented journalists’ personal sites.
FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK
After monitoring the respective drafts of Cal women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb – that’s right, my fantasy friend is back in Berkeley after a three-year stint in Santa Barbara, and she’s going to be doing a whole lot of real winning for a long, long time – and my buddy Malibu (not to mention his son, A-Man; my son; and a few friends, too), I’m eager to see if my sleeper picks and higher-profile choices pan out over the next few months. I’ll be offering plenty of fantasy thoughts on Ride With Silver and doing my best to keep things short and sweet in this space.
For the debut effort of Gottlieb’s team, “Bringin’ It Back,” I suggested she start wideouts Santonio Holmes(notes), Plaxico Burress(notes) and Reggie Wayne(notes) and give rookie Julio Jones(notes) a week to prove he can live up to my high estimation of his worth. While she was somewhat hesitant to play Wayne because of Manning’s absence, she liked the idea of starting a trio of Jets (Holmes, Burress and halfback Shonn Greene(notes)). “I’m from New York, and it’s the 9-11 anniversary,” the coach said. “I’m definitely feeling that.” It also doesn’t hurt that she has Adrian Peterson on the roster – she got him with the third overall pick, and before Chris Johnson was signed.
Naturally, I advised Malibu to play Jones, ahead of No. 2 tight end Brandon Pettigrew(notes). He got spooked by the rookie’s low projected points total and ignored me, going with post-draft pickup Devin Hester(notes). He does have Kenny Britt(notes), DeSean Jackson(notes), Philip Rivers(notes) and Vernon Davis(notes) in his ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ lineup, but he sat Darren Sproles(notes) (oops), and did he really take Mike Tolbert(notes)? On a positive note, I fully expect A-Man’s “Man Up Beanie You …” (Matt Schaub(notes), LeSean McCoy(notes), Darren McFadden(notes), Holmes, Dez Bryant , Steve Smith, Kellen Winslow(notes) and sleepers Willis McGahee(notes) and Montario Hardesty(notes)) to win the 12-team league.
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
The world's greatest Verizon store manager, Matt Dominguez, and his Wisconsin stand-in, Jon Hayden, for surmounting a barrage of glitches and getting me up and running with my new, 4G wireless card – so that I could work on this column from the front of the tour bus belonging to Kyle Turley, who continues to bring his raw, relentless passion to the music world. Turley and his increasingly adroit band of the same name played a spirited, hour-long set in the parking lot outside Brett Favre's Steakhouse in Lambeau and featured some of the songs from his soon-to-be-released second album, which I had the pleasure of watching him record in a Nashville studio in May. So I'm lining up shots for Turley and his bandmates, and also for my friend and old SI colleague Peter King, who shared some Spotted Cow ales with me at Nicky's Lionhead Tavern, allowed me to talk him into picking Browns tight end Evan Moore(notes) with one of the last selections in his fantasy draft (he did it at the bar) and let me crash in his hotel room (yeah, it was that tough to find lodging in Titletown) Wednesday night.
Finally, on a serious note, I wrote a column earlier this week remembering the decision not to play NFL games on the weekend following the 9-11 attacks, and another relating the personal story of Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose son, Tim, escaped from one of the twin towers. Ten years is a long time, but not nearly long enough to let the sting of that national tragedy abate, even a little. Please join me in extending thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, from heroic ex-Cal rugby player Mark Bingham to so many others.
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
After opening their season with a 36-21 victory over Fresno State, the Golden Bears take the Zach Attack to Boulder, where they'll battle new Pac-12 foe Colorado on Saturday in what, naturally, is a non-conference game. Look for new quarterback Zach Maynard to run a lot more impressively than Ralphie the Buffalo. Back home at Haas Pavilion, Cal's No. 1-ranked women's volleyball team hosts the Hilton Garden Inn Classic and will continue their drive to improve upon last year's second-place national finish. The same goes for Kirk Everist's second-ranked men's water polo team, which hopes to kick off a 2011-12 Aqua Slam (the Bears' men's and women's swimming and polo teams each finished in the top 2 during the prior school year) by capturing its 14th NCAA title. Coming off season-opening victories over a pair of top-20 foes, Shellie Onstead's field hockey team hosts two more in No. 18 Northeastern (on Friday) and No. 19 Indiana (on Sunday) as the Bears close in on a ranking of their own.
Finally, here's a shout out to Cal's soccer teams – Kevin Grimes' 15th-ranked men, who host Lehigh on Friday and Kentucky on Sunday, and the Katie Benz-led women, who are 5-1 in the post-Alex Morgan era. And yeah, I'm the guy who used to tell you about the stupendous striker before she was, you know, Alex Morgan.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
One reason I'm fond of Colts owner Jimmy Irsay is because of his terrific taste in music, something reinforced by his habit of quoting song lyrics on his seldom-boring Twitter feed. Irsay is understandably excited that Super Bowl XLVI is coming to Indianapolis, but given the recent news about his best player, the Colts have a very, very remote chance of playing in the game. Yep, that's a major downer. Like me, I know Irsay is a big Pink Floyd aficionado, and I'm sure he appreciated my homage to former Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi last December. Now it's Irsay's turn to hit the Wall – specifically, he's Comfortably Numb.
Is there anybody out there?
Garrard or Carson Palmer(notes)
Is there someone who can throw?
Come on, now,
You think we're going down?
Can Kerry ease our pain
And get us on our feet again?
I need some information first
54 mil guaranteed?
What the hell was I smoking?
No Reggie Wayne big games receiving
No Dallas Clark(notes) romps on the horizon
Blair White Project going up in flames
Garcon moves, but they can't get him the football
When I was a child I had a nightmare
The vans came middle of the night
Now that bad dream's happening again
Peyton is gone and we are undermanned
This is killing our brand
I have become comfortably numb
There's Polian's pin prick
There'll be no more YEAAAAAAAHHHH!
Collins just threw another pick
Painter, warm up
Can you make Jacob Tamme(notes) good?
Suddenly Austin Collie(notes) looks slow
And Gonzo has got to go
No Reggie Wayne big games receiving
No Dallas Clark romps on the horizon
Blair White Project going up in flames
Garcon moves, but they can't get him the football
When I was a child
I had a bitter dad
He thought Art Schlicter was the guy
I thought those dreary days were gone
I would not put good money on it now
The neck is fused
And I have become comfortably numb
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