GREEN BAY, Wis. — It’s never good business to doubt Aaron Rodgers.
Even if you’ve grown tired of his diva-like drama and sometimes-condescending act — and there’s a good percentage of Green Bay faithful who have — Rodgers remains who he’s always been on the football field: one of the greatest shows in sports.
It was all on display to the delight of the 77,240 Cheeseheads packed into venerable Lambeau Field for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Packers 35, Lions 17 in Green Bay’s home opener Monday night was Rodgers’ emphatic answer to the 38-3 shellacking he and the Packers took on the chinstrap from the Saints a week ago.
It was after the loss to New Orleans that Rodgers, who played an uncharacteristic miserable game (15 of 28 for 133 yards, no TDs and two INTs), dismissively called it “just one game’’ and defiantly added, “If we’re starting to freak out after one week, we’re in big trouble.’’
Whether or not Rodgers — who spent the offseason leaking word that he never wanted to play another game in a Green Bay uniform but never giving any concrete reasons for his discontent — and the Packers were on the verge of trouble entering the game was up for debate.
Even the most grizzled veteran observers of the Packers wondered which Green Bay team would turn up with an improved Lions team in town.
But history was on the side of Rodgers and the Packers. Of the seven losses in Matt LaFleur’s two seasons as head coach in Green Bay, three of those were by 25 or more points, including the season opener against the Saints.
And in the game following the first two of those blowout losses, Rodgers responded by throwing four TD passes in the next game.
Rodgers threw four TD passes Monday night, three of which went to his talented and trusty running back Aaron Jones, who became the first Packers back to catch three TD passes since Andy Uram against the Chicago Cardinals in 1942.
The first three of those Rodgers scoring passes came as answers to Detroit scores on a night when the Lions, 14-35 since 2018, showed they’re closing the gap a bit.
The stage was set beautifully for a special night for the Green Bay faithful. There was a palpable buzz outside of Lambeau hours before the game as beer flowed at tailgates, grills were filled with smoldering brats and the neighborhood home owners making their extra income by jamming cars onto their front lawns.
As kickoff neared, there wasn’t an empty seat in the building and the fans chanted, “Go Pack go’’ in unison before the national anthem was played followed by a booming military flyover.
Then the Lions wasted little time making things uncomfortable for the Packers and infiltrating their minds with hints of doubt. Detroit won the coin toss, elected to receive and promptly marched 75 yards on seven plays through the Green Bay defense to take a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard Jared Goff scoring pass to Quintez Cephus.
Suddenly, Lambeau transitioned from raucous to nervously quiet.
That’s where Rodgers’s first answer came — a deft flip pass to Jones, who raced 4 yards for a touchdown, tying the game at 7-7.
The Lions took a 14-7 lead in the second quarter on an 8-yard Goff TD pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson, who caught the ball with Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell draped on his back in the back corner of the end zone.
Again, Lambeau went silent.
Rodgers quickly turned the volume up, answering that Detroit scoring drive with one of his own, capping it with a 1-yard scoring pass to Jones, who outraced Lions linebacker Romeo Okwara to the end zone for his second receiving TD of the game to tie it at 14-14.
The Lions took a 17-14 lead into halftime after a 43-yard field goal by Austin Seibert with three seconds remaining.
With the first possession of the second half, Rodgers answered yet again, connecting with tight end Robert Tonyan on a 22-yard TD pass to give Green Bay its first lead of the game, 21-17, with 10:26 remaining in the third quarter.
The next time Rodgers got the ball, he extended the Packers lead to 28-17 lead with an 11-yard TD pass to Jones, who was wide open in the flat, with seven seconds remaining in the third quarter.
As it turned out, Rodgers was right. No reason to freak out in Green Bay.