Green Bay Packers

The Perception Versus the Reality Of Green Bay’s Slow Starts

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY Sports)

While languishing in the deepest depths of the Green Bay Packers’ loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, I fired off a tweet that erred on the side of incendiary.

This was a statement made out of exhaustion due to the 38-3 drubbing that Jameis Winston laid on Joe Barry’s pathetic defense. It was also factually incorrect, as a friend of mine pointed out:

I have a great deal of pride. I also know when I am wrong. As it turns out, I was extremely wrong here.

Green Bay has won every Week 1 game for the last six years and seven out of the previous 10 seasons. Their last Week 1 loss came in 2014 at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, where Russell Wilson and Co. drubbed the Packers 36-16. Marshawn Lynch ran all over the place, logging 20 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns on the day. Not a great start to the year, by any means.

Sulking in the shame of my incorrect assertion, I wondered why I had even thought that in the first place. Why did I have the sensation that the Packers always start the season slowly, even though they’ve won in the first week for the last six years? Recency bias usually carries the most weight in the sporting world. However, it did not rear its ugly head in this particular instance.

I took a look at each Green Bay Week 1 game from the last 10 years in an attempt to suss out the reason for my feelings. I have deduced the following in my quest:

  • Things have generally gone wrong on at least one side of the ball.
  • The lack of preseason snaps might have an impact.
  • The scars from 2012 and 2013 cut deep.

Looking at last year’s Week 1 game versus the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers demolished their opposition after going down 7-3 in the first quarter. Despite Green Bay outgaining the Vikings by over 140 yards, QB Kirk Cousins did what he did best and racked up the stats in garbage time to make the game look closer than it was. This facade did its job in making Mike Pettine’s defense look suspect. The final tally of 43-34 did not tell the full story of dominance, as Minnesota only had the ball for 18 minutes of game time.

The prior year’s Week 1 game could not have been more different. Matt LaFleur’s head-coaching debut brought in a stale 10-3 win over a struggling Chicago Bears team. This performance, or complete lack thereof, incited many questions about whether or not LaFleur would be able to hack it as a head coach in the NFL. Despite the win, this was not a start that anyone wanted to see.

The Packers beat the Bears in the 2018 season opener, but it required a 21-point fourth-quarter explosion to secure the win at Lambeau. A win is a win, but it did not ease too many concerns about what wound up being Mike McCarthy’s last year as head coach. That game did bring us two timeless moments, at least: the Randall Cobb TD and “Mah knee!”

The 2017 opener saw the Packers fail to put up any points in the first half of what would be an eventual 17-9 win against the Seahawks. In 2016 Green Bay beat the Blake Bortles-era Jacksonville Jaguars 27-24, even though they were outgained by over 100 yards on the day. The first game of 2015 was more or less the same story, as the Packers were outgained by Jay Cutler’s Bears and needed a 14-point fourth quarter to win 31-23. Wins are good, but all were far from convincing for a team with championship aspirations every year.

For those who watch Aaron Rodgers and the Packers closely, one can usually tell that the chemistry between players is a bit off in the first game of the season. This phenomenon was indeed exacerbated this year after the endless offseason drama. Rodgers missed OTAs for the first time in his career. Talking heads spouted about how disengaged he looked and how out of sync he was with his receivers. His two interceptions on the day would seem to suggest that this disengagement is real. Or at least it was real for this last week.

Recency bias aside, I wonder if the “sluggish start” mentality was ingrained into my teeny-tiny brain after watching Colin Kaepernick throw for 400 yards against the Packers in the 2013 season opener. Of course, this was Green Bay’s first game since their 2012 playoff loss to the 49ers, where Dom Capers rolled out the red carpet for Kaepernick en route to 181 rushing yards on the day from the hyper-talented quarterback. The Packers were slammed for their lack of preparation. The consecutive losses to San Francisco, who had also beaten Green Bay in Week 1 of 2012, cut deep.

Despite the lopsided loss last week, Packers fans do not need to panic yet. There is an extra regular-season game this year, the Saints will be a good team, and every other team in the NFC North lost as well.

Even though my perception of the slow start was not entirely accurate, there is reason to believe that the ship will be righted sooner rather than later. After all, it is just one game. History would dictate that the Packers will find their way to success more often than not, and those victories should be right around the corner. With the Detroit Lions on tap for this week, expect the horrors of last week to vanish.

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