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Analysis | The Packers certainly have stirred a lot of thoughts and feelings for just two games

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — The season remains a pup at just past Week 2, and the Green Bay Packers already tire the brain and tug the heart.

The brain bit comes from their Tilt-a-Whirl of a start, the 38-3 loss to New Orleans on Sept. 12 and the 35-17 win Monday night over Detroit, all of which left Aaron Rodgers as both quarterback and culture commentator. He stood in Lambeau Field after things had gone from catastrophe to 1-1, looked back across his eternal career and measured societal overreactions: "I think that there's, even more now than when I started playing, there's so many overreactions that happen on a week-to-week basis."

He meant the overreaction he saw after the 38-3 score had stunned the land and after Rodgers had tried to reassure that it had been just one game, so he finished the thought with, "So it's nice to come out, have a good performance and get the trolls off our back for at least a week."

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Rodgers started taking NFL snaps Oct. 9, 2005, in fourth-quarter mop-up for Brett Favre in a 52-3 win over that same New Orleans franchise, after which Rodgers said of Favre, "The day before his 36th birthday, he looked like a 22-year-old out there."

Now Rodgers has reached 37 himself, and it's hard to figure out whether it's that the world has more trolls per capita or that having so many more people around necessitates having so many more trolls. "I think we maybe tried to show that we cared a little bit more tonight," he said in apparent wryness, elaborating on that later with, "I just think people like to say a lot of bulls--- and it's nice to come back in here after a game like that."

A perfectionist with a 38-3 loss, a puny 114 passing yards and a Week 1 league low of 229 total yards can get dangerous the next time out, even if the Lions did lead 17-14 at halftime. That score got deluged in three post-halftime Packers possessions: 87 yards in eight plays, 75 yards in 11 and 23 yards in five after a Detroit fumbled snap (a reminder there's no fumbled snap as bleak as a Detroit fumbled snap). The first of those three alone saw Rodgers's 50-yard monster bomb up the right side to Davante Adams that seemed to alter the game, and the 22-yard marvel of a touchdown to Robert Tonyan that seemed to scurry right into an inch of available space amid draping coverage from linebacker Alex Anzalone.

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Soon enough came postgame talk of the usual vagaries and mysteries of football. Said Rodgers, "I think we simplified a few things on offense and it allowed all of us to play a little bit faster and smoother." Said Coach Matt LaFleur, "I just really felt like going into this game, from an offensive perspective, we needed to get our playmakers the ball."

Said the No. 1 playmaker, running back Aaron Jones: "It feels great, you know, just to get that ugly taste out of your mouth. . . . I'm glad we came out and handled business and [got] back to playing Packer football."

While the brain tangles with all of that, the heart learns that when Jones scored the second of his four touchdowns, a one-yard catch late in the first half, off fell his necklace with its black football pendant containing his father's ashes. It spent the rest of the game in the end zone, and the grounds crew searched for it afterward. (Jones said in a radio interview Tuesday that the necklace had been found.)

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This happened five months and two weeks after Alvin Jones Sr. died at 56 of covid-19 complications on April 6, and Aaron told on Instagram of a "heart torn into a million pieces."

The obituary of the elder Jones, who with wife Vurgess had raised five children in El Paso, elucidates an unbearable loss. He had served in the U.S. Army from March 1984 to the end of 2012, with tours in Iraq, Kuwait, Hungary, Egypt, Germany, South Korea and the homeland, with a long list of medals and with a finish as a command sergeant major. He had coached youth sports, coordinated three football camps and birthed a foundation through which he organized a bike drive, a turkey drive and a shoe drive underway at the time of his death. He had become a fixture in an end zone seat at Packers games since Aaron Jones's outset here in 2017, after both Aaron Jones and Alvin Jones Jr. had played football at Texas El Paso.

"My dad is the greatest man I've ever encountered," Aaron Jones wrote in 2020 in the Players' Tribune.

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Now he had a game without his father in the familiar place — "scares me to think about it," he had written last spring on Instagram — and now in that game he had the four touchdowns. He had three by reception, the first Packers running back with that distinction since Andy Uram against the Chicago Cardinals in 1942, a season Uram followed in 1943 by joining the Navy for World War II.

"I had 15 people here," Jones said, and the 15 sat among a restored crowd of 77,240. "So I really appreciate them. From my mom, my brother, son, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. So I really appreciate them for being here. It did a lot for me, just, you know, I'm normally used to turning around and seeing my dad in the stands, just smiling, knowing everything's okay, so when I saw them, I was good."

On the first touchdown, he tapped his chest and pointed skyward. On the second, he lost the necklace. After the fourth and after the game, he said, "But if there was any place to lose it, that's where my dad would want me to lose it" — the end zone — "so I know he's smiling."

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"He's a great human being," Rodgers said of the back wearing No. 33. "He adds a lot to our team. As just a player, he's an exceptional player. I was teasing him in training camp when he missed a few days in a row: It's just different when you watch film when 33's back there. He's just a different type of back. He's a special player. But the person is really a great person. … Man, you love having him on your team."

It had been some big evening, from the clear pregame skies to the second-half rainstorms. The neighborhood around the storied stadium, one of the authentic scenes in American sports, a neighborhood comfortable and tidy while mercifully shy of posh, had blossomed into technicolor. Yards had filled with residents and their guests. Open garage after open garage boasted chairs and sofas and large TVs with the pregame on. Parking spaces in the yards sold for $15 or $20 or $25 or $30 or $35.

A bustling, roaring crowd back at Lambeau Field, after a 2020 season of hushed stands, made it feel as if a pandemic might have ebbed. Then came the game, with a four-touchdown star who reminded what a pandemic has cost. All of that, too, felt confusing.

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