Favre replacement Rodgers has solid showing in Packers loss
By Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Bob McGinn
GREEN BAY, Wis. — A month from now, nobody will remember the first exhibition game for Aaron Rodgers as starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.
Memorable or not, Rodgers gave the Packers as much if not more than they could have expected last night in his much-scrutinized debut as Brett Favre's successor.
Rodgers played 23 snaps, generated 10 points in four series and made only one errant throw in the 48th annual Bishop's Charities Game that ended up being won by the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-17, before a crowd of 69,675 at Lambeau Field.
"I thought he threw the ball very well," general manager Ted Thompson said. "Looked calm. I think his balls were pretty much on time. Excellent accuracy."
Rodgers, who finished with a passer rating of 79.0, had six incompletions. Of the six, two were dropped, two were thrown away under pressure, one probably should have been caught and another was overthrown.
"It was a good night," Rodgers said. "The signs I saw in the stands were very positive and encouraging."
The Packers played without seven starters: six because of injury and cornerback Charles Woodson because of caution. The Bengals were minus four starters.
Exhibition openers generally have been exercises in offensive futility for Green Bay this decade. From 2001-07, the Packers scored 45 points in their debuts, an average of 6.4 per game, and posted a 2-5 record.
The Packers began in typically dreadful fashion, with a collective false-start penalty on the first play, a sack for minus-8 on a blown blitz pickup by Brandon Jackson and a dropped pass by Donald Driver on which Rodgers was hit after guard Josh Sitton allowed pressure.
On the next possession, Rodgers led a 40-yard march to the Bengals' 30. He drilled Driver for 10 on third and 9, executed a sharp bootleg fake and flipped it to Driver in the flat for 12, and watched Jackson break free from under the arm of nose tackle Domata Peko for a 16-yard burst.
The drive ended on second and 8 when Rodgers fired a seam route to Chris Francies about 15 yards downfield. It was a bang-bang play, with safety Marvin White closing on Francies from behind.
The result was an interception for safety Dexter Jackson when the ball caromed off Francies' chest or hands. There was considerable booing after , presumably directed at Rodgers by Favre diehards.
"I think it hit him right between the 8 and 3," Thompson said. "We throw that pass a lot. It looked like it was right there."
The Packers' starting defense, which didn't permit a first down until the Bengals' fourth possession, immediately got the ball back for Rodgers at the Green Bay 38.
On second down, James Jones left cornerback David Jones in the dust on a post-corner route, breaking wide open at the 18. Rodgers came off a good play-action fake and threw to a spot, but Jones didn't react very well and saw the ball skip off his outstretched hands.
"I thought we should have adjusted on that one," Thompson said. "I think he had trouble finding it."
Rodgers then went deep to the same corner of the field on third and 2 with a back-shoulder fade to Ruvell Martin. When Jones was late looking back, Martin leaped back to make a sideline catch for 30.
"Him and Ruvell are big buddies," Thompson said. "They work on stuff like that."
Probably Rodgers' worst throw came on third and 4 from the 19. Martin had his man screened off behind him on the sideline inside the 15 but the pass sailed high. Mason Crosby's 37-yard field goal made it 3-0.
When the Packers got the ball back, Jackson appeared to be stopped cold in the middle of the line. Once again, he kept his legs churning, bounced left and raced for a gain of 22.
"Showed good balance, good strength," Thompson said. "He's a bigger, stronger guy than he was this time last year."
From a base formation with Driver slot right and Jones wide right, Rodgers went to Jones on a post against Deltha O'Neal. Jones had inside position but was unable to put the ball away cleanly.
As Jones was gathering it to his chest, White smashed him so hard that it sent Jones' helmet flying. Somehow, Jones kept his feet, escaped to the right and ran the final 13 yards without protection.
"Double catch, but James has those really good hands and he's a strong guy," Thompson said. "Took a pretty good shot and spun out."
Then Rodgers gave way to rookie Brian Brohm, whose first snap from scrimmage ended in an interception by linebacker Corey Mays. Tight end Tory Humphrey, who stayed in to block when he was supposed to be in the route, took the blame.
Brohm had looked right, where he expected to see Humphrey, and then threw back inside into heavy traffic.
"Brian was in a bad spot," coach Mike McCarthy said. "The route progression wasn't what it was supposed to be. You have to have the discipline to move on to the next receiver. He'll learn from that."
On defense, the No. 1 unit effectively blitzed Carson Palmer in the first quarter, limiting the Bengals to 13 yards in nine plays. Then coach Marvin Lewis began running the ball effectively with backs Kenny Watson and Chris Perry.
The Bengals scored on a 14-yard pass from Palmer to tight end Ben Utecht, who got open inside when linebacker Nick Barnett appeared to break the wrong way in coverage, and a 6-yard touchdown run by Perry for a 14-10 lead.
The Packers had a chance in the final minute, but Kregg Lumpkin lost a fumble.
"We're off to a solid start," McCarthy said. "I'm not jumping up and down. We didn't win the game, No. 1. But there was a lot of productivity in all three phases."