GREEN BAY, Wis. — By the time last season ended, it was easy for the Green Bay Packers to forget how it started.
Freeze the season after Week 1 last year, and the Packers were poised to be the NFL’s biggest disappointment. They’d been blown off the field against the New Orleans Saints in their most lopsided opener in decades, a “stinker” as Aaron Rodgers called it. Suddenly it was time to reevaluate the Packers’ outlook for the 2021 season.
That season, of course, ended with the NFC’s top overall seed locked up before their finale in Detroit. Which is the best any team can achieve in the regular season.
A year later, the coming preseason has sharpened memories of that 38-3 loss to the Saints. Coach Matt LaFleur has informed his top players their preparation for the 2022 season might be different. Backup quarterback Jordan Love will start Friday night’s preseason opener in San Francisco and next week’s lone preseason game at Lambeau Field, but who plays in the finale remains an open discussion.
Rodgers, already letting his coach know how he feels about playing preseason snaps, made his feelings on the subject known Tuesday.
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“I don’t see any benefit to it,” Rodgers said. “I definitely don’t see any benefit to playing one series. If we’re going to play, we should play and play a quarter, a couple series – two or three series. Just suiting up for four plays, to me, is a waste. I’m not saying this to send a message to Matt. I’ve already told Matt the same thing. So we’ll see what happens when we get there.”
Rodgers has never taken a preseason snap since LaFleur was hired as his head coach. His last exposure to the preseason came in 2018, when he played seven snaps in the second week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike McCarthy was the coach then.
LaFleur has already adjusted his camp schedule from the past couple years, giving players fewer off days away from the practice field. Playing Rodgers in the preseason finale at the Kansas City Chiefs would be a more significant change.
“When you have a stinker like we had last year in Week 1,” Rodgers said, “there’s always going to be the second guessing of what happened in training camp. Should we have played more? Should we have played in the first game? The second game? Whatever it might be. I don’t want to overreact to that, and Matt doesn’t either, but if we feel like we need to go out there and play a quarter of more, that will be Matt’s call. I’m sure he’ll lean on me and Big Dog (Marcedes Lewis) and Allen (Lazard) and some of the older guys to see what they’re thinking.
“But if we play, we should play. And not just play three plays, three runs and punt it. That doesn’t do anything for any of us.”
Even with that stinker in last season’s opener, the Packers’ plan worked. There were no significant injuries in last year’s camp. While attrition took its toll on the roster as the season progressed, from Jaire Alexander’s shoulder injury to Elgton Jenkins and Robert Tonyan’s torn ACLs, nothing the team did in August would have prevented that.
Ultimately, the Packers carried arguably the NFL’s most talented roster to the NFC’s top seed, securing home-field advantage and a first-round bye.
The schedule might provide more urgency this summer. Unlike a year ago, the Packers open with a NFC North opponent, traveling to Minnesota in Week 1. It could be harder to accept a team not ready for the regular season given the importance of division games. Still, it is a long season, and preserving a healthy roster is paramount in the preseason.
If the idea was sacrificing the opener for the greater good, the Packers couldn’t have asked last season to play out any better.
“I mean, that’s the question,” Rodgers said. “There’s injuries in football all the time. So I think it’s kind of a no-win situation to the outside of the building. If somebody gets hurt, ‘Oh, I can’t believe they played our guys.’ But if we go out and have a stinker, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t play them.’ So I think you’ve just got to do what’s best for the squad.
“Matt’s going to do that. He’s going to lean on the leaders of the football team, and if he feels like we need to go out and play, we’ll go out and play. But I don’t want to go out and just play three plays. That, to me, is a waste of time.”
This article originally appeared on Packers News: Aaron Rodgers says Packers shouldn't overreact to 2021 opener