GREEN BAY — The hit cost Martellus Bennett and the Green Bay Packers 15 yards. What it meant to his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, made the penalty more than worth it.
Late in the Packers’ 17-9 season-opening victory at Lambeau Field Sunday, Rodgers scrambled up the middle on a third-and-4 from Seattle’s 45-yard line. Desperate to get the first down to keep the clock moving, he dove headfirst, and Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright — legally — tried to lay a hard hit on him.
The blow was glancing, but Bennett, Rodgers’ new starting tight end, didn’t care. He angrily shoved Wright, drawing a 15-yard penalty.
“It’s my quarterback. I’ve always got his back,” Bennett said. “It’s a bad penalty at that moment in time but I thought it was a cheap shot. I always protect the quarterback. I’ll never let anybody take a cheap shot on my guy. That’s any guy on the team. I’ve got everybody’s back. I think they all know that and it’s kind of my role on the offense and that’s the type of attitude I bring to the team.”
Rodgers certainly appreciated it — as he has in the past when other teammates have stood up for him. Last year at Minnesota, Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo hit Rodgers after he’d crossed the goal line — and center JC Tretter went after him. And at Tennessee, essentially the entire offense — led by Randall Cobb and Davante Adams — picked a fight with the Titans defense after cornerback Perrish Cox hit Rodgers in the end zone.
“It meant a lot to me. It really did,” Rodgers said. “Anytime your teammates do something that, it’s special. (It happened) twice last year with JC locking up Sendejo after I scored and he hit me, and then the whole team coming to my defense — especially Randall and Tae — right away in Tennessee.
“Those are moments you take with you for a long time. … I love Marty for doing that.”
Bennett said he apologized to coach Mike McCarthy for drawing the penalty, although he made up for it with a 26-yard catch-and-run that allowed the Packers to run out the final 2 minutes of the game.
“It’s always funny because you see me reading Harry Potter all the time, and then I get in the game and I’m shoving people and stepping on people. It’s just like it’s a switch,” Bennett said. “When I go home, I’ll probably continue to watch the Harry Potter marathon with my daughter. But during the game, it’s a whole different animal.”
THE STREAK CONTINUES: Rodgers called his first-quarter interception “terrible,” admitting that he never saw Seahawks defensive tackle Nazair Jones before he hit him in the facemask with an errant pass. But the quarterback seemed even more bothered by the fact that Jones was able to run away from him for an apparent 64-yard touchdown.
It was called back because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane, who was ejected for fighting with Adams, and a block-in-the-back penalty on Cliff Avril, who nudged Rodgers from behind during his futile chase.
“I didn’t see him, and then he made me look really slow,” joked Rodgers, who has still officially only thrown one pick-6 interception — in 2009 at Tampa Bay, where Tanard Jackson returned a tipped pass 35 yards for a score. “I had visions of Don Beebe and Leon Lett (in Super Bowl XXVII) in my mind. I was gaining on him a little bit, I feel like, though the film might not show that.
“I was just glad it wasn’t a pick-6. I think I’ve got a pretty good streak going right now. And it would have been rough to give up a pick-6 to a lineman who outran me over a 60-yard path. … Especially since I feel like I’ve been working on my conditioning and my running.”
Rodgers said he wasn’t aware of the Avril penalty, while Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was livid about his No. 2 cornerback being kicked out of the game. Lane was on top of Adams and appeared to have his forearm on Adams’ throat, although even Adams admitted he wasn’t sure Lane did enough to get kicked out. Referee John Parry said Lane was ejected for throwing a punch.
“I didn’t see the punch at all. I’m disappointed the play would have such magnitude on the game,” Carroll said. “It’s just such a drastic thing to do that I wish they would have had cooperation from more than one official and talk about it, because it’s such a big call. I’m not even talking about the touchdown, but I’m talking about ejecting the guy. One guy saw it, and that’s what they went with. I’m anxious to hear how the league tells us how that went.”
BENNETT RAISES FIST: While his brother Michael sat on the Seahawks’ sideline to protest racial inequality, Martellus Bennett did not follow suit, even after Michael’s incident with Las Vegas police came to light last week. Instead, he merely stood on the Packers’ sideline during the national anthem, with his fist raised in the air, saying it was “a sign of unity with my brother.”
Earlier in the week, Bennett made it clear that he is cognizant of how sitting during the anthem is construed by veterans, as his father was in the military and Bennett was born on a U.S. Naval base.
“For me it’s a sign of unity to let the world know that I see what’s going on and it’s not going unnoticed,” Bennett said. “I’m doing what I can to help too, just letting people know that ‘Hey, I’m behind you, I’m behind my brother.’”
Meanwhile, Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix stood on the field and held the flag with others during the national anthem.
MURPHY DELIVERS: The Packers sat veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who injured his right ankle on Aug. 23 and appeared early in the week to be on course to play, after the medical staff was “adamant” about him not playing, McCarthy said. Second-year man Kyle Murphy, who played just a handful of offensive snaps as a rookie sixth-round pick last year, got some blocking help but held up well overall, allowing one sack.
“It’s his first start. But he doesn’t blink. His personality is perfect for this situation,” McCarthy said. “We went five-man protection a bunch. So it isn’t like we parked someone behind him all day in there. He had to play and he played big today.”
NO WORSE FOR WEAR: Rodgers was limping around late in the game and said afterward it was because he had his left foot stepped on and also was kicked in the shins on a few plays — things that he said didn’t happen during his brief three-series preseason workload.
“It’s a painful thing to have done. You kind of forget about those things when you don’t play a whole lot in preseason,” Rodgers said. “It was mostly that — just kicked a couple times, stepped on a couple times.”
The Packers’ only other announced injuries were to new outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (concussion) and backup left tackle Jason Spriggs (hamstring). Cornerback Damarious Randall (cramps) and running back Ty Montgomery (left ankle) both returned from their injuries.
SHHHHH! Rodgers loves Lambeau Field and Packers fans as much as ever. But he’d appreciate it if they’d avoid doing “The Wave” when he and the offense are on the field. The crowd of 78,381 got so loud during one fourth-quarter possession that the Packers had to burn a timeout.
“I love our fans. They’re very passionate and ‘The Wave’ is pretty awesome,” Rodgers said. “Just hold it until we’re on defense.”
Said McCarthy: “The energy at Lambeau today was awesome. Our crowd was so excited, even cheered when we had the ball. So I think it kind of shows you that we all have some work to do.”