NFL Opening Weekend 2011 kicked off with a bang Thursday night with plenty of offensive fireworks. But it was a defensive play that saved the day for the Green Bay Packers, who held off the New Orleans Saints 42-34 when a leaping Mark Ingram came up short of the end zone on the final play.
Talk about an exciting way for NFL fans to usher in the start of what promises to be a fantastic season.
In a game filled with big plays, the defending Super Bowl Champion Packers had the Saints on the ropes on several occasions, but were never able to close the door.
A sensational 108-yard kickoff return by rookie Randall Cobb gave Green Bay a 35-20 lead midway through the third quarter, but Drew Brees engineered a quick scoring drive capped off by a 29-yard strike to Devery Henderson.
John Kuhn's one-yard dive put the Packers back in front by two scores, but the Saints answered with another solid drive into the Green Bay redzone.
The Packers defense stiffened with the Saints facing fourth-and-one on the Green Bay six, pressuring Drew Brees into an incompletion.
On their final possession of the game, the Saints marched down the field against a soft Packers zone defense. With no timeouts, Brees took a final shot towards the end zone, drawing a pass interference call against Packers LB A.J. Hawk.
With one last chance, the Saints decided to put the ball in Ingram's hands. B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett led a strong surge by Green Bay's line to preserve the win.
Thursday's game featured dominant performances by familiar faces, but also a coming out party for several key new additions to both teams.
Randall Cobb showed he will be another weapon for the Packers on offense and provide a boost in a punt and kickoff return game that has lacked consistency since Desmond Howard was running back kicks more than a decade ago.
On the other side, new scatback Darren Sproles took a punt return to the house for the Saints and showed his value as a receiver coming out of the backfield.
As if either of these teams needed more playmakers on the field to make for must-see TV.
Meanwhile, for NFL fans like myself, Thursday was a night of celebration and relief.
What would fall be without questionable officiating, horrible musical introductions by has-beens and plenty of fanfare?
Get ready for plenty of highlights and hype in the next five months.
And remember to savor every single stop along the road to Indianapolis.