JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This isn’t a stat line you see from Aaron Rodgers every day: 15-of-28 passing for 133 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
This isn’t a statement you hear every day, either: “I played bad.”
And no one on the Green Bay Packers saw it coming.
Coming off their second straight 13-win season, a second straight NFC Championship Game appearance and with Rodgers back after his offseason of discontentment — and seemingly on form during a sharp training camp — the reigning NFL MVP and his team bowed out of the regular-season opener against the host New Orleans Saints without much of a fight in a 38-3 loss on Sunday.
The 35-point loss suffered by the Packers is the worst in a season opener by a team that played in either the AFC or NFC Championship Game the previous season.
“They came ready to play; absolutely embarrassed us today,” said Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who also called the loss humbling.
Rodgers had a slightly different take.
“I’ll let him use those words and I’ll use, it’s just one game,” Rodgers said. “We played bad. I played bad. Offensively we didn’t execute very well. One game. We’ve got 16 to go.”
Rodgers used the “We-played-bad-I-played-bad” line twice during his postgame comments.
With his entire collection of skill-position players — plus a reunion that he initiated with receiver Randall Cobb — Rodgers didn’t even see the finish line. He exited with 10:46 remaining in the game and a 36.8 passer rating, giving way to Jordan Love‘s first NFL regular-season action.
And it wasn’t like Rodgers’ didn’t have time to throw behind an offensive line that featured two rookie starters (center Josh Myers and right guard Royce Newman) plus their left guard (Elgton Jenkins) filling in for All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (who will miss at least the first six games while recovering ACL surgery).
Rodgers completed just 4-of-15 passes when he had more than 2.5 seconds to throw. Both of his interceptions came with at least that much time — the one in the red zone when a touchdown would have made it a 17-10 game — and it was his worst completion percentage on those throws since at least 2016, when NFL Next Gen stats first began tracking.
Rodgers discounted the absence of any preseason playing time as a reason for the performance, and no one even broached with him the fact that he skipped the entire offseason program. But he wouldn’t discount the fact that the Packers came into this neutral site game — that featured at least half Packers fans among the 35,242 at TIAA Bank Field — overconfident and underprepared.
“I think there’s probably some of that,” Rodgers said. “We probably felt like we were gonna go up and down the field on whoever they had out there and that obviously wasn’t the case today. I give [Saints defensive coordinator] Dennis Allen a lot of credit. I think I’ve always thought he’s a really good defensive mind. They had a good plan. It was to play a lot of two-shell and slow us down with the front. They did a good job of that.”
Both Rodgers and LaFleur said the counter to that defensive look is the run game, yet their running backs carried just 14 times (including only five for 14 yards by Aaron Jones).
“We didn’t run the ball; we didn’t even attempt to run the ball enough,” LaFleur said. “So that’s my fault.”
In the end, it went down as the worst loss of Rodgers’ career as a starter, regular season or playoffs, and just the third time the Packers have scored three or fewer points in one of his starts. It was also just his third career game with no touchdown passes and multiple interceptions.
All of that against a team they beat last season 37-30 without their No. 1 receiver Davante Adams, who on Sunday had a team-high five catches for 56 yards.
That it happened in the season opener might have been a shock, but to Rodgers that was easier to take than if it happened down the road.
“I think easier,” he said. “We’re coming off a couple NFC Championship Games and obviously feeling good about the unit that we have on offense. … So this is a good kick in the you-know-where. Hopefully get us going in the right direction going back home and playing a division opponent [Detroit] next week.”