Criticized all offseason for being "soft," the Green Bay Packers proved for at least one week, they're far from a feather pillow, albeit in a losing effort to the San Francisco 49ers in the season opener.
Perpetuated up by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Bob McGinn in the aftermath of last season's playoff loss to the very same opponent, the Packers were every bit as tough as the Niners this past Sunday, just not as talented.
It was easy for Green Bay, however, to play inspired football against the team that caused their postseason demise. The challenge ahead of the Packers is to continue to play a rugged style of play––all season long.
If there's one player on the Packers roster who could never be stereotyped as being soft, even in previous seasons, it's linebacker Clay Matthews. But it was as if Matthews took the label personally, trying to make up for the entire team in Week 1.
Criticize all you want for Matthews playing overzealous, getting penalized for a late hit and getting away with what should have been an unsportsmanlike penalty, Matthews played at a high level all game long, making a pair of seven-yard tackles for a loss and sack of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Last year, Matthews would be the only one making those types of plays, but on Sunday, the rest of the team took his lead, particularly the front seven of the Packers defense.
Almost to a man, the entire defensive line brought a blue-collar attitude and helped to stuff the Niners to the tune of 2.6 yards per rush.
B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett held their ground and strung out plays to the sideline. Johnny Jolly picked up where he left off in 2009. Datone Jones and Mike Neal hustled to make tackles downfield.
And say what you will about the job of the linebackers in coverage, but Nick Perry, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones all did their jobs in helping to shut down the San Francisco ground game.
Even on offense, the Packers stuck with the running the football despite minimal success.
Had it not been for typical rookie mistakes by Eddie Lacy and three penalties by Josh Sitton, the results would not have been so bad. In the second half, when faux pas were fewer and farther between, they started to move the ball.
Now the Packers have to maintain this fire-breathing, nail-spitting image, which isn't to say they can't play finesse football in the passing game and in trying to stop aerial attacks, where speed and not grit is of utmost importance.
The quest continues on Sunday in the home opener against that team in Washington. Despite a lackluster effort from Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and company on Monday Night Football, the enemy can't be overlooked.
But it doesn't stop there. The Packers must remain physical through January, not just for one fleeting moment in September.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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