Aaron Rodgers completes his ‘checklist’ in Packers’ 51-34 win over Steelers
GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers has long maintained that he doesn’t need to play a single preseason snap in order to be ready for the games that actually count. But he did enter Thursday night’s second preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a to-do list.
And in six snaps (including a penalty) during Thursday night’s 51-34 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field – the highest-scoring preseason game in Packers history – Rodgers accomplished just about everything he could have hoped to in an otherwise meaningless preseason game.
absorbed his first hit of the summer, when Steelers linebacker Vince Williams tackled him to the ground after an incomplete pass, and Rodgers made it through unscathed;ducked under a Steelers defender on what should have been a sack and extended a play, as he often does, scrambling for a 5-yard gain;caught the Steelers with 12 men on the field to create a free play, one of his specialties;connected with No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams on a 27-yard gain;threw an 8-yard touchdown to new tight end Jimmy Graham to cap a five-play, 40-yard drive.
“If you’re talking about checkmarks in the preseason, I got rid of the nerves, got hit, had a scramble and a slide, and hit Jimmy and Davante. That’s kind of the checklist for my first action,” Rodgers said. “Happy with it, happy to get in, be productive and get out and let those guys behind me make some plays.”
The touchdown to Graham, a five-time Pro Bowler who joined the Packers on a three-year, $30 million free-agent deal in March, capped an important week for the duo, as they connected several times in practice as their chemistry continued to develop.
“The biggest thing, the goal tonight with Aaron in that first drive was to get the ball in the end zone. I thought we did a nice job of that,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I tried to feature Jimmy there with a couple calls (and) was pleased with his time on the field. … That was definitely a focus on that first drive.”
Rodgers finished the night having completed 2 of 4 passes for 35 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions (119.8 rating), but after missing most of last season with a fractured right collarbone, the most important thing was that Rodgers emerged no worse for wear. He’s expected to see a little more action in next week’s third preseason game at Oakland.
Having not played at Lambeau Field in 322 days – dating back to the Packers’ Sept. 28 victory over the Chicago Bears – Rodgers also said he genuinely appreciated the reaction he got from the announced crowd of 74,434 when he returned to the field.
“I’ve got to thank the fans. To be back on Lambeau was a thrill,” said Rodgers, whose one post-injury start was Dec. 17 at Carolina – a loss that eliminated the Packers from playoff contention and led to him sitting out the final two games to allow the surgically repaired collarbone to keep healing. “The ovation touched me. I had to kind of wipe away some tears in my eyes. I know getting over 30 – those of us over 30, I think that’s a number where you start getting a little softer maybe, and things get to you a little bit. But that really meant a lot to me.
“Had to settle myself down a little bit and got into it with the throw to Davante.”
Rodgers didn’t play in last week’s opener against Tennessee, which was consistent with the approach the Packers have taken with him in recent years. Last preseason, Rodgers played three total series and 26 total snaps, sitting out the first and last exhibition games.
Rodgers said he and McCarthy talked after the touchdown drive about “whether we wanted to give it another drive or call it a night.” They opted for the latter.
After that, Rodgers gave way to backup Brett Hundley after the first series, as all four quarterbacks saw action, as McCarthy had intended. Hundley was 6 of 9 for 77 yards (93.3 rating) with a 10-yard touchdown run, DeShone Kizer was 7 of 12 for 149 yards and two touchdowns, including an 82-yarder to former UW-Whitewater star Jake Kumerow (142.0 rating), and rookie Tim Boyle was 4 of 7 for 37 yards (71.7 rating).
“The three young quarterbacks, I thought they did a heck of a job managing the game,” McCarthy said. “Something that’s (not easy) in preseason football – there’s more moving parts, more personnel substitution, obviously a higher risk for mental errors. You really have to command that huddle to get things set. I thought all three of those guys did a heck of a job with that. We played with good tempo, and definitely was production there.”
The Packers defense did a significant portion of the scoring, with veteran cornerback Tramon Williams intercepting a Mason Rudolph pass on the first play from scrimmage and returning it 25 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Rookie cornerback Josh Jackson followed suit on the Steelers’ first pass attempt of the second half, picking off a Joshua Dobbs pass and returning it 22 yards for another pick-6 touchdown.
The first-team defense struggled against the run in the early going, however, as Steelers running back John Conner had five carries for 57 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run.
“There’s plenty not to be excited about,” McCarthy said. “I think the trajectory of our football team (is), we’re on a good path, but we have a lot of work to do. … It’s like anything in this business, it’s never as good as you think it is and it’s usually not as bad as you think it is.”
Rodgers was particularly impressed with the young players, especially Jackson on his touchdown and Kumerow on his.
“A productive night for us. Very happy for the squad,” Rodgers said. “You see a lot of young guys stepping up and making plays, and that’s what it’s all about. The practice reps are important, but there’s not 74,000-plus watching you. There’s a bunch of people, but not 74,000.
“So to do it on a big stage like this, like a number of our guys did tonight, was invaluable for those young players.”