Aaron Rodgers, Packers looking to change narrative in New Orleans

Saints incredibly successful at home in prime-time games 

200926-mike-spoffords-my-one-last-look-column-2560
QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – There are only two current NFL stadiums in which Aaron Rodgers as a starting quarterback has tried more than once to win but hasn't done so.

You only get one guess to name the first one.

"Haven't won, hasn't really been close," Rodgers said of his two previous visits to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. "Both games I feel like we got kind of smacked."

The Packers did, but it's easy to forget they were actually in both games. In 2008 on Monday Night Football, they trailed the Saints by just three points at halftime before losing by 22. In '14 on Sunday Night Football, it was tied at intermission but the Packers lost by 21.

The Saints got their offense rolling in the second halves of those games and the Packers couldn't answer. It was typical of what the Saints do to just about anyone who comes into New Orleans for a prime-time game.

In the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, the Saints are an impressive 25-6 in home night games, an .806 winning percentage, including 10-0 on Sunday nights. Not only that, but they've won those 25 games by an average margin of 18 points, scoring 30-plus points 19 times and 40-plus eight times.

The scores in '08 and '14 vs. Green Bay were 51-29 and 44-23, respectively, fitting the overall statistics to a T.

The scheduling gurus weren't going to let the first showdown in six years between two future Hall of Fame QBs miss a premium TV slot, of course, so the Packers are headed there in prime time once again, to a place that hasn't housed a Green Bay victory since Super Bowl XXXI (the Packers also lost there in 2002).

But if there's a promising opportunity for the Packers to change the narrative and for Rodgers to chalk another stadium off his hit list, this is it, even with star receiver Davante Adams doubtful with a hamstring injury.

The Saints are coming off a short week, having traveled to play a Monday night game on the West Coast, and for the second straight game they'll be without their top wideout, Michael Thomas, who has an ankle injury.

In general, the Saints are off to a bit of a sluggish start offensively, but that's nothing the Packers are taking for granted, particularly some national criticism swirling that Brees is on the decline. No one in Green Bay is buying that.

"It's just a matter of time before he gets it rolling like we're all accustomed to," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "You can never let your guard down because as soon as you do, he's going to go out there and dice you and hang 45 on you."

More crucially, the Saints have announced only 750 fans will be in attendance, mostly family and friends of team personnel, so the raucous Superdome crowds that have contributed in the past to the second-half avalanches caving in on the Packers won't exist.

Rodgers showed in Week 1 at Minnesota's U.S. Bank Stadium how much of a difference that can make. With not having to use the silent count in an indoor road venue, he manipulated his cadence to get the Vikings to jump offside three times, all on third down. Twice the penalties handed the Packers first downs. The other time Rodgers completed a free-play deep shot.

"He's one of the best at it," Payton said of Rodgers' hard count. "Those guys will finish and he'll look for that aggressive play down the field if he knows he's got someone in the neutral zone.

"We're going to get five, six, seven of those classic hard counts and he knows how to do it specifically with the right play, where he's got a vertical route."

Other than Adams and rookie tight end Josiah Deguara (also doubtful) on the injury front, signs look positive defensive tackle Kenny Clark can return from his groin injury, and the Packers' offensive line appears to be getting closer to full health.

It's far from a perfect scenario if Adams can't play, but the stars may be aligned just enough for Green Bay this time around.

If the Packers and Rodgers are able to get the win, it would leave the two-time MVP quarterback with only one other current venue in which he's winless with multiple chances – Tennessee's Nissan Stadium, the site of losses in '08 (overtime) and '16. For the record, Rodgers never won at San Francisco's Candlestick Park, losing twice before the iconic stadium from his northern California youth was replaced.

There are several places in which he's yet to win with only one opportunity: Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, Denver's Empower Field at Mile High, Buffalo's Bills Stadium, New England's Gillette Stadium and Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium. He's also 0-1 in two Los Angeles venues, the Coliseum and Dignity Health Sports Park, but barring something unforeseen, he'll never play in either one again.

Health permitting, Rodgers will get another crack at Indy this year and Cincinnati next year.

He's never had an 0-3 record in any NFL venue, as long as his first-quarter exit with a broken collarbone at Minnesota's U.S. Bank in '17 doesn't count against him. When he got his third full shot there last year, after losses in '16 and '18, he won. Previously, the last time he was 0-2 somewhere – at Tampa Bay after losses in '08 and '09 – he won on the third try, in '14.

So take all that for what it's worth. It's fun to talk about as faint, deep-background noise for a Sunday night showdown that's much more about this: two all-time great QBs trying to get to a second Super Bowl.

"Both the Saints and us have aspirations that I think are real," Rodgers said. "They're a really talented team and so are we. It'll be a good measuring stick for us."

Advertising