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By CHRIS HAVEL
Green Bay’s season-opening win highlighted by Nelson’s return, key players rising to occasion
The Packers began a sweltering Sunday by honoring the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
Then they went to work in 90-degree heat to earn a 27-23 victory over the pesky and much-improved Jaguars at Jacksonville.
For all of the mistakes and potential concerns in their choppy season-opener, I suspect the Packers and Jaguars will be among the NFL’s top playoff contenders by December.
Any road victory in the NFL, especially when it comes against a highly talented team at the skill positions in a game played in extreme conditions, is cause of celebration.
To suggest Dom Capers’ defense played poorly in victory, I say you’re underrating Capers, the Jaguars’ offense, or both. The Packers’ defense limited the Jaguars’ running game to zilch. It also corralled quarterback Blake Bortles – who is just 23 – and his favorite weapon, Allen Robinson, for much of the game.
Then, when it mattered most, Green Bay’s defense dug in and held off the Jaguars on fourth down at its 14 with 14 seconds to play. It was a do-or-die, all-or-nothing situation and the Packers’ defense rose to the occasion.
So did several key players in the season-opening victory.
Eddie Lacy is never going to be svelte. However, his catch-juke-and-run through the heart of the Jags’ defense illustrated Lacy’s efforts to be in top condition. Lacy ran with power, vision and explosiveness. He didn’t seem to be gassed, and he appeared to be back to his old exuberant self.
Jordy Nelson’s long-anticipated return was a success. Nelson caught six passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. His TD catch was especially sweet because it reminds everyone just how terrific Nelson is at making himself available when Rodgers is forced to extend plays with his feet.
Davante Adams needs to keep working on his concentration, but it appears there’s nothing wrong with his eyes or his hands, or his eye-hand coordination, for that matter. Adams’ amazing, diving touchdown catch is another flash of what he is capable of. Now he needs to keep focusing to make the easy catches.
Richard Rodgers and his retooled body looked good. He continues to earn a role in the offense, and the potential of a one-two tight end punch with Jared Cook is a real possibility. Rodgers’ 20-yard catch was nothing new to those who attended the Packers’ training camp on a somewhat regular basis. He is a better, more-experienced version of the player who made that tremendous catch at Detroit last season.
Meantime, Cook’s debut was mostly uneventful, which probably means he’s going to have a monster night at Minnesota Sunday.
The Packers’ offensive line survived Josh Sitton’s release. I’m not that surprised because this is still a veteran group playing in front of a quarterback who elevates everyone’s play.
Lane Taylor was OK. It will be interesting when Corey Linsley returns because J.C. Tretter is going to be in the starting lineup somewhere. It’ll be either at center or wherever he’s most needed, which could be left guard.
Nick Perry showed up. In a contract year, after a so-so NFL career to this point, it appears Perry is healthy and playing at a high level. He was active throughout and created a lot of havoc in the Jaguars’ backfield.
On the contrary, Julius Peppers nearly vanished in the Jacksonville sun. He was on the field, but he didn’t appear in the TV screen very often. I suspect Peppers, who is a notoriously terrific big-game player, will be in top shape come Sunday night at Minnesota. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.
Clay Matthews was active and impactful while spending the majority of his day at home on the edge. Matthews’ power and speed off the edge is staggering at times. He appears to be off to an excellent start.
Aaron Rodgers was his usual calm – even the heat – cool, and collected self. Rodgers was accurate, in control and didn’t at all look like this was his first extended playing time.
The Packers are off and running, and I like what I see so far.
Last week: I picked the Packers 31-23. Not too shabby.
This week: Green Bay 27, Minnesota 24.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.