GREEN BAY – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 31-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field, which saw Aaron Rodgers lead three touchdown drives:
Thumbs up: This no-huddle business looks like a keeper. For the third straight week, the Packers opened the game with a touchdown drive on their first possession. In Rodgers’ second game action – he sat out the opener at Tennessee – the Packers marched 72 yards in seven plays en route to a 1-yard Eddie Lacy touchdown plunge, the third straight scoring series Rodgers had directed. (Rodgers directed a touchdown drive and a field-goal drive last week against St. Louis, although the field goal came after a touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson was nullified by penalty.)
All told, Rodgers was at the helm for six drives Friday night and led the offense to three touchdowns, going 9 for 20 for 139 yards with TD passes to Jordy Nelson and Andrew Quarless. His summer is now over, as he won’t play in the preseason finale next week against Kansas City, and he finishes the preseason having directed eight drives: Four ended in touchdowns, one in a field goal and three in punts.
Statistically, Rodgers will finish the preseason 20 for 33 for 267 yards with three TDs and no INTs for a passer rating of 116.6. The next time he’ll see game action will be in the Sept. 4 regular-season opener at Seattle.
“I think we're ready,” Rodgers said. “I think it's been a good preseason. We scored some points, moved the ball. We saw what we wanted to see out of our skill players and the offensive line. We have 13 days to the game."
Thumbs down: While the offense was productive, the Packers’ first-string offensive line was not atop its game. Although the unit cleared the way for lacy during the opening drive (six carries, 36 yards, touchdown), Rodgers did take some hits.
The first one wasn’t the fault of the line; rather, it was rookie tight end Richard Rodgers who was bull-rushed back by linebacker Sio Moore, who hit the quarterback as he threw deep to Nelson. Two plays later, Rodgers had to run for his life and his backhanded flip to James starks fell incomplete. On the ensuing drive, LaMarr Woodley beat Josh Sitton on a twist for a 6-yard sack, and on the drive after that, Rodgers was under pressure again on a third-down incompletion that forced another punt.
In fairness, Rodgers was barely touched last week at St. Louis, and the first-string of David Bakhtiari, Sitton, JC Tretter, T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga should be a strength if the group stays healthy together. But on this night, it wasn’t their finest hour.
“”No concerns. That's correctable stuff,” Rodgers said of the hits he took. “That's a good defense. A lot of veteran players on that side of the ball, so they made a couple of plays. They hit me one time when Richard kind of let his guy get through and then they had a stunt for a sack."
Player of the game: After running back DuJuan Harris lost a fumble in last week’s win over the Rams, running backs coach Sam Gash called it a “mulligan” and said the play wouldn’t be held against Harris in his quest for the No. 3 running back job behind Lacy and James Starks.
Like any good golfer would, Harris took advantage of the extra stroke and had a wonderful bounce-back game. He carried 12 times for a team-high 56 yards and also caught two passes for another 42 yards, including a 31-yard gain on a screen. Although he did get flagged twice for false starts, he ran with power, confidence and vision. His 31-yard catch-and-run on the screen set up Nelson’s 12-yard touchdown four plays later. After missing all of last season with a patellar tendon injury, Harris looked healthy, quick and like he will contribute.
“I just want to come in every day and get better. That’s one thing I focused on this week,” Harris said. “I was a little bothered by the fumble last week, and it was something I worked on during practice. Still made some mistakes tonight, still got to get rid of some things before we start the season.”
Play of the day: It’s been a long two years for Nick Perry, who has seemingly been felled by injury just when he was starting to come on at outside linebacker. On fourth-and-10 from the Packers’ 26-yard line, Perry rushed Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub from the right edge and beat starting left tackle Donald Penn, pushing Penn backwards toward Schaub, then disengaging and knocking the ball loose. Mike Neal recovered, and while the takeaway didn’t lead to points because of Matt Flynn’s interception on the very next snap, it was a refreshing impact play for the 2012 first-round pick.
Inside slant: After surrendering a 40-yard touchdown run to Maurice Jones-Drew when they crowded the line of scrimmage on a third-and-2, the Packers’ No. 1 defense went into lockdown mode from then on. On the next five possessions, the only yards the Raiders gained were on a pair of pass interference penalties called on cornerback Sam Shields. Otherwise, they netted zero yards from scrimmage in those five possessions. The four series after the Jones-Drew run were three-and-outs, and the defense stiffened after the penalties on Shields.
“We just wanted to come out and do what we can do,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I’m not going to say make a statement, but we know what we’re capable of doing.”
While Jones-Drew’s run was disastrous, the response was impressive. The Raiders will have their ups-and-downs defensively, but with the Packers’ offense going no-huddle, these could be challenging days for the Green Bay defense – especially when Rodgers & Co. go three-and-out, as they did twice during the defense’s shutdown stretch.
“We know what our offense is capable of. They came out last weekend and looked unstoppable. Then this weekend, they still moved the ball well, but it was a little inconsistent,” Williams said. “It gives us a chance as a defense to kind of rise up and show them what we can do. I think it’s good to have games like that. There’s going to be a lot of games like this during the season. So we’ve got to be able to hold up our end of the bargain.”
Quote, unquote: “I think our No. 1 defense, they had the one big play that they gave up but, other than that, I think we dominated the line of scrimmage. Three-and-outs speak for themselves. I was very pleased with the first unit.” – McCarthy, on the defense.
Injury report: Nose tackle B.J. Raji left the game with a right arm injury that McCarthy said Raji doesn’t think is serious. The only other announced injury was to cornerback Demetri Goodson, who suffered a concussion. Guard Andrew Tiller left the game with what appeared to be a lower leg or ankle injury and did not return. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion, who remains on the non-football injury list with a hamstring injury, did not play. Nor did tight end Brandon Bostick (leg); wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee); tackle/guard Don Barclay (knee); linebacker Joe Thomas (knee) and running back Rajion Neal (knee).
> For Charles Woodson and James Jones, returning to Lambeau Field felt about like they thought it would.
“You know, it was just seeing old friends,” Woodson said in the middle of the Lambeau Field visitors’ locker room. “Guys that I've played with for many years and guys I went into battle with week-in and week-out. It was great to see everybody."
Added Jones: “It felt good. I still talk to a lot of the guys. Like I was telling the reporters in Oakland, I was just more excited to get around those guys, crack some jokes, have some fun.”
Jones, who left as a free agent this spring after seven seasons, and Woodson, who was released by the team on Feb. 15, 2013 after seven seasons, were playing in Green Bay for the first time since their departures. Both were acknowledged on the stadium scoreboards during the second half.
“You’ve got to understand the business side of it, man. I’m not a guy to hold any grudges,” Jones said. “Mike McCarthy, Ted Thompson, A-Rod were great to me when I was here. It’s a business; I love those dudes like they were my brothers, you know what I mean? So I don’t hold no grudges. It’s a business. Everybody you know doesn’t play on the same team their whole career. There’s a lot of great players who go other places. So I’m not mad, I don’t sit at home and say, ‘Why am I not here?’ No. I’m excited about where I am, excited about the new challenge and I love coming out here, competing against the guys today.”
Asked if he felt at any time the way his friend Greg Jennings, who lashed out at the Packers last year after signing with Minnesota, felt, Jones replied, “No, man, no. I’m happy, my wife and kids are happy where it’s at. I’m excited about the journey we’ve got ahead and this team. I don’t look at it as, ‘The Packers don’t want me, don’t like me.’ I just go play football, wherever God has me to play football.”
Woodson, meanwhile, admitted it took him some time to get over the fact that the Packers cut him without even asking him to take a pay cut, which he says he would have considered and likely accepted. Instead, the team moved on and was terrible at safety last season, while Woodson played virtually every snap on defense for the Raiders.
“There's a lot of love out there. I could feel it,” Woodson said of his reception Friday. “A lot of people chant my name. I still see a lot of 21 jerseys. It felt good to go out there and receive that type of welcome. You know what? It is exactly what I felt like it would be. The fans here understand that when I went out there I left it out on the field every week. They can respect that.
"Of course, it stings to have a team say they don't want you anymore. I think I got over it fairly quick. I think you have to because you understand those things happen in the business. It's just the first time it happened to me and it happened after 15 years. But you get over it. You move on and you know it opens up a new chapter in your life and your career, so you move forward."
> The Packers went for 2 after each of their touchdowns instead of kicking the traditional extra point with kicker Mason Crosby. After Crosby made all his extended 33-yard extra points in the first two preseason games, McCarthy saw the plays as extra opportunities to run offensive plays.
“Mason doesn’t like it, but I like it,” Rodgers quipped.
On the 2-point conversions, Rodgers was 2-for-3, hitting Jordy Nelson for one conversion and watching James Starks barrel in for the other. In between was an incomplete pass to rookie Davante Adams.
“It's about taking advantage of situational football opportunities in the preseason,” McCarthy said. “You sit there and you go through scheme evaluation and how many times do you really go for two points? Plus, to be honest with you, the uncertainty of what the extra point was going to be, where it was going to be, the 15-yard line and things like that, we made a conscious decision going into the preseason that we wanted to work more on 2-point plays, work more on fourth-down calls and things like that. It's just really emphasizing those situations to get the work."
> The Packers’ backup quarterback competition was neck-and-neck to start the night, and it remains too close to call. Scott Tolzien (8 of 11, 107 yards, one TD, 133.5 rating) had the better night statistically than Matt Flynn (4 of 10, 37 yards, one INT, 11.2 rating), but McCarthy made it clear that Thursday’s preseason finale against Kansas City will be a major factor in the decision.
“It’s always important when you go out there and you’re showing people what you can do and show them that you deserve a spot on the team,” Flynn said. “Every year, you’ve got to prove to the coaches that you deserve a spot and you’ve earned a spot. I don’t think they just give out spots or anything like that because of what you’ve done [in the past]. But I feel really good about what I’ve done this camp. I think I’ve had one of, if not the, best camps that I’ve had since I’ve been a professional. That entails a lot of things besides just what’s going on out there. I’m proud of what I’ve done. I don’t have any regrets.”
Tolzien went against lesser competition, who entered the game after Rodgers, but that doesn’t downgrade just how in-rhythm and productive he was.
“It was good. But we’ve still one to go. Just trying to keep building on things and getting better,” Tolzien said. “It shouldn’t matter who’s on the field, the goal’s the same: move the chains and score points, hopefully touchdowns. We’re lucky we’ve got a really deep team. It’s good to be out there with anybody that we’ve got. I feel real confident with anybody.”
It’s still possible that the Packers will keep both backups, given what Flynn did last season when Rodgers was sidelined (2-2-1 in five appearances) and the improvement shown by Tolzien.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.