The Packers have a lot of corrections to make if they want to turn the page on a sour opener like last year
GREEN BAY – The flight back from Minnesota traveled a lot farther than the 275 miles separating the Green Bay Packers from U.S. Bank Stadium, where they lost another lopsided opening game in their season.
When the planelanded, the Packers had gone back a full year. Back to the first day of Week 2 in 2021, when a team punched in the mouth, a roster and coaching staff embarrassed by their performance, was left picking up the pieces.
There was no panic. Familiarity brings comfort in difficult times, and their 23-7 loss Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings was hard to digest. No different than their 38-3 blowout to the New Orleans Saints one year ago.
What the Packers hope is those similarities don’t stop there. They know how the rest of their season went after last season’s opener, how they won their next seven games. That’s the task coach Matt LaFleur gave his team to start Week 2 this season.
“A lot of our veterans,” LaFleur said, “this isn’t their first rodeo. This isn’t the first time they’ve suffered a defeat, but it’s always interesting to see how young guys respond to a defeat or not playing your best. You’ve got to be critical, but at the same time you’ve still got to put your arm around these guys, because you want them confident.
“I think when you see teams that can go out there and execute at a high level, obviously there’s a level of skill that’s demanded upon them, but also there’s a level of confidence there.”
Nothing about how the Packers responded to Sunday’s loss, both in the visitors’ locker room in Minneapolis or back at Lambeau Field on Monday, indicated a team whose confidence had been shaken. They were defiant more than conciliatory, steadfast in their beliefs. LaFleur even doubled down on the most questionable decision that backfired against the Vikings: choosing not to match up top cornerback Jaire Alexander with Pro Bowl receiver Justin Jefferson, who ran roughshod on Green Bay's secondary.
This isn’t a group that will let one game, no matter how embarrassing, change its course.
“The biggest jump comes from Week 1 to Week 2 in the league,” running back Aaron Jones said. “That’s probably one of the biggest jumps that you’ll see through the season. That’s for all teams. We know what it takes.”
That doesn’t mean the Packers will follow the script they set in 2021. The issues exposed Sunday were real, and they were unique to this season, and they must be fixed if the next 16 games end with more wins than losses.
Most glaring were the communication breakdowns on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers lamented his offensive linemen blocking the wrong pass rushers on a handful of plays. Everyone saw how wide open Jefferson got in zone coverage. The Packers looked like a team that hadn’t played before, but their lack of preseason snaps for starters can’t be used as an excuse. The Vikings didn’t play their starters in the preseason either.
LaFleur, careful to not give the Vikings bulletin-board material, said his team left “a lot of opportunities” on the field Sunday. Their chronic miscommunication prevented them from executing. “Our mistakes,” LaFleur said, “became critical errors.” If it happens again Sunday in their home opener against the Chicago Bears, the result won’t be any different.
“It’s just disappointing when you have a veteran group at certain spots, and you do have those miscommunications. Or just guys not playing their responsibilities. So that’s going to be a point of emphasis, and we’ll make sure we get that corrected. We have to get it corrected in an urgent manner and get ready to play Chicago.”
It would be easy to presume turning the page on this opener will be more challenging than last year. Some of the problems aren’t going to go away in a week. Rodgers still doesn’t have Davante Adams as his top receiver, like he did a year ago. The offensive line is unlikely to become whole, with left tackle David Bakhtiari and right tackle Elgton Jenkins expected to miss at least another week. For the offense, especially, improvement will take time.
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But things didn’t go smoothly during the Packers’ seven-game win streak following last year’s opener either. Za’Darius Smith, then the team’s best pass rusher, played 18 snaps against the Saints but missed the rest of the regular season with a back injury. Alexander injured his shoulder in Week 4 and didn’t return until the playoffs. Jenkins missed three straight games with an ankle injury.
The Packers simply figured out how to win, flipping their 0-1 record into 7-1. They need to do the same thing one year later.
“We never want to start a season down 0-2,” Jones said. “So you’ve got to get it going. Gotta get on the right side of that win column.”