Millions of dollars in economic stimulus.
The national spotlight.
"These are things that you dream about. This is the once-in-a-lifetime advertising campaign that was distilled in a few weeks," New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. president Mark Romig told the newspaper.
Romig said the Green Bay community has a terrific opportunity to bask in the nation's grand stage leading up to Thursday night's Packers season-opener against the Saints.
It may be the Packers' most hyped matchup of the season, but ticket demand for the game has dropped.
When the lockout ended, the NFL season opener was the hottest ticket on the Packers' home schedule with prices starting at nearly $300 for some ticket brokers.
But even with the announcement of kickoff performances from Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum and Maroon 5, demand has waned in recent weeks.
"It's the cheapest game of the year...There's no interest," said John Schmidt, a ticket broker," said. "It's a Thursday night game, kids are in school, people work on Friday,"
Goldsheet.com has the Saints favored in 14 of their 16 games. Only the Packers and are favored and the website has the Saints' game at Atlanta even. The lines: Packers by 4 1/2, Saints 9 over Bears, Saints 9 over Texans, Saints by 9 over Jaguars, Saints by 11 over Panthers, Saints by 2 over Bucs, Saints by 6 over Colts, Saints by 5 over Rams, Saints by 8 over Bucs, Saints-Falcons even, Saints by 8 over Giants, Saints by 9 over Lions, Saints by 8 over Titans, Saints by 4 over Vikings, Saints by 6 over Falcons and Saints by 13 over Panthers...
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said the Saints were a great team and a contender and the Green Bay Packers are the same. Here are his comments in a media Q and A:
You guys have played in this game before, but it’s a little bit different than last year. What are your thoughts going up against the Super Bowl champions?
“This is the third time in six years that we’re playing in this game. We played at Indianapolis in 2007 which didn’t turn out too well for us. Last year we played at home and got a win. Now we’re going to Green Bay, one of the more historic places to play and one of the great venues in this league. I think what we do know about this game is that it is a media and fan spectacle with all the stuff going on and the unveiling of the championship banner and all those things. The biggest thing for us is just understanding that we need to hunker down, eliminate distractions, focus on the game and not get caught up in all the hoopla - understanding how excited they’re going to be and they’re going to come out all jacked up just like we did last year. We just need to weather the storm and really stay focused on the task.”
Coming off the season when you guys won the Super Bowl and playing in this game, what did you guys learn from that experience?
“So many of the questions going into last season were: what have you done about the Super Bowl hangover, how do you defend against that and how do you prepare for a season after being the champs. That’s a fun thing to be called defending champs, but everybody also tries to make it a stressful thing. In the end, I felt like we handled that situation very well even though we started off with a 4-3 record which was not optimal for us, but I felt like we finished playing some of our best football at the end of the season. Unfortunately, the playoffs did not go the way we expected. I still felt like we had as good a shot as anybody going into the playoffs and that’s all we wanted. That’s all you can ask for in this league. I feel like we learn a lot from every season whether it goes really well or we fall a little bit short. I feel like we have a lot of guys on this team that went through both of those seasons - the 2009 and 2010 seasons - and I think that’s going to benefit us moving forward.”
Have you talked to anyone with the Packers about the upcoming game?
“The most interesting thing about this game or this situation that Green Bay is in is that no team has ever gone into a lockout after winning the Super Bowl. This whole offseason has been unchartered territory for all of us.”
Last time you played this team, Don Capers wasn’t coaching their defense. What type of challenges does he present to your offense?
“It’s a very aggressive style. He has the ability to do that because he has great players behind it. They pressure a lot. They play a lot of man-to-man, bump in your face coverage. They have the ability to really get after the quarterback. I think they were second in the league in sacks last year, but you just constantly see them disrupting the pocket. Clay Matthews has been a huge addition. He wasn’t there when we played them in 2008 and now he is. Tramon Williams has established himself as one of the elite corners in this league and he was just a nickel at the time when we played them in 2008. Now he’s the starter. Sam Shields is now their nickel. He came on last year and had a great rookie season. Charles Woodson is still Charles Woodson. In my mind, I think he still has the label of being one of the best defensive players in this league, especially when you look at the role he plays in the nickel in the slot and he pressures. He’s just nifty and crafty and a veteran guy who is one of the most instinctive players to ever play that position. You look at that and their defense as a whole – they’re aggressive, they get a lot of turnovers, they get after the quarterback, they make a lot of plays and they play with a lot of confidence.”
This is the first of 16 games. Is that the way you all really look at it?
“That’s the way it shows up in the stat book. I’m sure we’re going to get questions about future playoff implications and all that stuff about this game. We see ourselves as a great team and as a contender. They see themselves as a great team and as a contender. The fact of the matter is it’s one game and it just happens to be the first game of the season on a Thursday night on national television. But you just try to cut through all that and understand it’s just a game and it’s just one game. We know that if we got out and play our best, we have a great chance to win. But that’s going to be difficult because it’s on the road in a hostile environment and it’s the first game, but we’re going to do our best.”
Do you like playing against the defense you just described, one on one against your receivers?
“Yes, I do because I like our receivers, I like our backs, and I like our tight ends. I like our skill positions. I feel like we have playmakers just like they do. In the end, if they choose to play man-to-man then it’s a lot of one-on-one matchups. Basically what they’re saying is we think our guys can match up with your guys. Then you hope that you can get some big plays.”
You guys are rarely an underdog, yet you’re considered an underdog in this game. Can that be an advantage to some degree mentally?
“I think it’s always a source of motivation when someone puts you as an underdog. In the end, you have to go out and still prove that you deserve to be in that category and be a contender and win a tough game on the road in a tough environment when everyone is betting against you.”
What allows a guy like Clay Mathews to make so many big plays in games?
Very few times do you have a player, that is not a safety or a corner, who is just that much of an impact player. He is one of those guys. He is as good at defending the run and chasing down a play from behind as he as at rushing the passer and getting a sack or a sack and fumble or an interception himself. He can do all of that stuff because he is so athletic, strong, powerful, all of those things. He is a guy where you have to know where he is at all times. You have to have a plan for him or else he can really wreck your day.
On his rivalry with Jonathan Vilma and his competitiveness…
He brought that. You are always looking for somebody to match up against. Typically, for a quarterback you are always thinking about corners and safeties. All of a sudden the Mike Linebacker, who is the quarterback for our defense, starts talking a little smack or wanting to make bets on two-minute drill on a best-of-three little series that we will do. I am all about it. It just adds a little extra pressure. You try to have that carry over to a game-like situation. You play it like a game, whether it be that pressure as well.
Did your rivalry happen immediately when he got here?
We both have kind of grown into that. He has always been a super-confident guy who talks. Not like talking trash, but just vocal. I remember playing against him when I was in San Diego and he was with the Jets. I would always hear him on the field, but in a good way. You just felt like that guy is the leader of the defense, and you respect him.
He was rated high in a poll by the players. Does that say that the the players appreciate what he does?
Absolutely. That was heavily player weighted. I think that says a lot. When you have your peers and the guys that you play with, more-so against, saying you are one of the best.
Are you anxious to see how this offensive line goes into the first game with new pieces in Olin Kreutz and Zach Strief?
Obviously, he is going to have a tough challenge with Clay Mathews. Really, with that whole front. I am not worried about those guys at all. It’s a tough game, tough situation, no matter if you have a group that has been together for five or six straight years. It’s the first game of the season. This is when the real, live, bullets start flying. It’s on the road against a very good defensive front. There are always challenges there.
How important was your performance against the Raiders in the pre-season?
It’s important. Had we gone out against the Raiders and not scored any points or just kicked a field goal in the first half then we are thinking that we weren’t very productive this preseason. It only gets tougher as the season goes on so now we are behind and we are playing catch-up. You always try to create a sense of urgency, in a way, in just feeling like you have to keep pushing. Never be satisfied with where you are at, you can always get better. Along the way, you like it when you get a little bit of positive re-enforcement. When you go out and play well in the first half with the starters, it makes you feel like we are on track, we are getting there, we are almost ready.
Are there similarities between the Packers and the Saints?
I would say that there are a lot of similarities. Both defenses are attack-style defenses. Both offenses are attack-style offenses. I think there are a lot similarities you can draw here. Then the fact that we are both the defending Superbowl champs. We are both in the NFC. We both feel like we are poised to make another run at it this year. It doesn’t get any better than this.
How do you approach practice?
We try to make it as hard as we can for our defense. We are trying to beat our defense during training camp. That’s who we game-plan for. That is who we are trying to attack. We are not thinking about anybody else but beating our defense and making Gregg Williams cuss over on the sidelines. That’s our goal in practice. At the end of practice, I will go over to Vilma, Gregg, or one of the other defensive guys and we will talk about what just happened. We will say, hey what was that? Or they will say, you did that shift or that personnel group and it got us. I think we all compare notes because in the end, we are all on the same team. We want them to be as best prepared for whoever they are going to face just like they are going to prepare us for whoever we might face. I think, in the end, with as competitive as we make and with as much we throw at each other, it absolutely helps prepare us with what we are going to see this season, especially this first game because both teams are very similar.
After playing in the season opener twice and only putting up scores of 14 points and 10 points, what adjustments are you and Sean Payton making to perform better?
It’s all about execution. There are always opportunities there. It’s just about cashing on those opportunities. The Green Bay Packers are a great team. They are not the defending Super Bowl champs for no reason. This is one of those crazy environments. First game of the season. So many reasons why this is such a huge game. That’s why our job is to cut through it all, eliminate distractions, go out there and play the best that we can. I hope that we score more points than what we have in the previous two Thursday night games. All that matters is that we score one more than they do.
by Ed Staton
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