The dawning of a new era in New Orleans got off to an explosive start under new starting quarterback Jameis Winston on Sunday.
Unfortunately for the Packers, it was their revamped defense on the receiving end of the Saints' offensive onslaught.
Winston, stepping in after a season behind future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, played mistake-free football while throwing for five touchdowns in New Orleans' decisive 38-3 win over Green Bay at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
Winston only threw for 148 yards – the first time since 1948 a QB threw for fewer than 150 while still throwing least five TDs – but his 37 yards on the ground aided a run game that amassed 171 yards on 39 rushing attempts.
Of those 171 rushing yards, 140 came during a dominant first half in which New Orleans won the time of possession battle 21:52-7:02 during a hot afternoon in Florida.
"We had plenty of opportunities for the momentum to be on our side early in the game," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. "We just missed our opportunities that we had. They got a couple scrambles for first downs and that's what kept their drives going. And then the game kind of got away from us."
The game started to unravel in the third quarter after back-to-back interceptions by Aaron Rodgers, the second of which the Saints turned into a 10-yard TD pass to Chris Hogan. The Packers then tried to get more aggressive on offense but turned the ball over at their own 22 after going for it on fourth-and-1.
Aside from a 55-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Harris in the fourth quarter, the Saints did most of their offensive damage early on. Eight of their 10 longest plays were in the first half.
The Packers hit Winston just three times with Clark coming the closest to sacking him on the game's opening drive. Winston turned good protection into steady production, keeping the Saints in favorable down-and-distance throughout.
All told, New Orleans went 5-of-10 on third downs, 2-of-2 on fourth-down conversions and a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone.
"That plays a factor with us not getting off (the field), but it's our fault that we're not getting off," safety Adrian Amos said. "A lot of that is us not doing well enough on first and second down to get off the field. When you have hot games like this, humid, the humidity out there, with it being the first game of the season, those compounding factors where we don't get ourselves off on third down, getting three-and-outs, getting takeaways, things like that, we make the job harder on ourselves."
The Green Bay Packers faced the New Orleans in a Week 1 matchup in Jacksonville on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021.
The Packers came into the season with high expectations on defense. They not only returned three Pro Bowlers and several established veterans from last year's unit that finished seventh in total defense, but also welcomed a new coordinator in Joe Barry.
Both Clark and Amos said one game, however disappointing the result may have been, doesn't extinguish that optimism. With their attention turned to next Monday's home opener against Detroit, the Packers believe they can make the necessary corrections and put their best foot forward against the Lions.
"When you're a competitor, losing is embarrassing and then losing that way is, but it's not something that I'm hiding under a trash bag or anything like that," Amos said.
"One thing we gotta do is keep our heads tall and we just gotta know what we gotta correct and get to work. The message really is to not let one game beat us twice, not hang our heads around this. Keep our confidence high but at the same time we gotta know what work we gotta get done."