Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter


GREEN BAY, Wisc. A two-hour drive late at night is sometimes when you do your best thinking.

Pondering and such.

Wondering about who the other drivers are and why they're on the road when they're on the road.

Early Friday morning, in the wee hours before dawn, I made the trek from Green Bay, Wisc., to Milwaukee.

And I thought not about the other drivers. I thought about New Orleans' season-opener against the Packers, the 42-34 loss that all at one time managed to seem like a blowout and a close, last-play game.

Somehow, some way, the Saints held in against the reigning Super Bowl champions in historic Lambeau Field after a cruel initial onslaught from the Packers.

Make no mistake, New Orleans will have to clean up its act if it wants to attain the highest of goals.

The offense will need to figure out a way to pick up short-yardage plays, including those on the 1-yard line with no time on the clock to potentially push the game into overtime.

The special teams will have to learn to cover every kickoff like it's going to be run out of the end zone, even if it was eight yards deep and against the Packers' in-house rules for when to bring a ball out of the end zone on a kickoff.

And yes, the defense will positively have to figure out a way to tackle and to get off the field on third down. Allowing Green Bay to go 8 of 12 on third-and-whatever will not win you many games.

But all is not lost.

Green Bay is upper echelon good.

Whereas most other teams in the NFL ply their trade with two or three matchup problems, the Packers throw between six and eight depending on your thoughts on Ryan Grant and James Starks.

The offense rolled up 477 yards, showing it appears to be nearing 2009 levels when the offense was unstoppable.

Darren Sproles was magisterial, accounting for 250 all-purpose yards, including an electric 72-yard punt return for a touchdown on his first attempt of the season.

Once the defense got its footing in the second half, it forced three punts on Green Bay's final four possessions, including a three-and-out on the Packers' final series of the game, giving New Orleans a chance to at least attempt to tie the game.

There were glimmers of hope to be found in the maddening loss.

Maddening because the Saints believe they can play better on both offense and defense and in special teams.

The Saints will be a good team this season. There was plenty to build on in the loss.

And yes, the sun still rose today.

I know because I saw it somewhere in the air between Milwaukee and Atlanta, thinking about what to make of Thursday night's game.

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