CLEVELAND – The three most impressive Packers on Saturday night fall into three different categories.
One is a rookie draft pick, one is a key backup and crucial insurance policy, and one is a young player fighting for a roster spot.
Their efforts weren’t enough to get the Packers a victory in the 27-17 decision in Cleveland, but their play will stand out when the coaches review the film.
The rookie draft pick is second-round receiver Randall Cobb, whose three catches for 60 yards don’t do justice to how brightly he shined.
Cobb caught all three passes as backup quarterback Matt Flynn directed a pair of scoring drives. His first catch was his best, a diving 13-yard grab over the middle to convert third-and-5 and get the Packers into chip-shot range for kicker Mason Crosby.
Then, during the two-minute drill to end the first half, Cobb jump-started the drive with a 19-yard grab on third-and-11. Two snaps later, he caught a short crossing route and gained some yards after the catch, 28 in all, to get the offense into scoring territory.
In a deep receiving corps that includes four accomplished veterans, plus playmaking tight end Jermichael Finley, Cobb appears to be, yet, another weapon in the offensive arsenal.
“Definitely,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “He’s comfortable out there. He feels comfortable, he looks natural at the position, being in the slot. He brings a lot to the table. We’re excited to get him out there and give him more opportunities to make plays.”
Cobb thought he should have made a few more plays on some slant routes that didn’t connect against tight coverage, but he did draw a defensive pass-interference penalty on one of them in the second half.
In any case, the rookie was more self-critical than self-inflating after the game, a sign he doesn’t feel he has truly arrived just yet.
“I need to be more consistent as far as catching the ball,” he said. “I had a couple of drops today, a couple of tough drops, but they’re still drops. I have to have that accountability on myself and for my teammates so they know I’m there to make plays whenever they’re available to me.”
Flynn, of course, is the key backup who made an impression, as well, calmly and confidently leading a productive two-minute drive to end the first half. As insurance behind starter Aaron Rodgers, Flynn picked up where he left off late last season.
Taking over on his own 11-yard line with 1:49 on the clock, Flynn completed six of eight passes for 89 yards, used two of his three timeouts after in-bounds completions, and got the ball in the end zone with 27 seconds left when tight end Spencer Havner caught a pass that deflected off receiver Tori Gurley at the goal line. The score gave the Packers a 17-14 halftime lead.
“We work it almost every day in practice, so it was good to go out there and work the operation, work some signals with the receivers and just get in a rhythm,” Flynn said of the two-minute situation. “We had a long drive, close to 90 yards, and it was good to cap it off with a touchdown.”
Flynn’s earlier scoring drive was a 14-play march that stalled in the red zone, but he converted two third downs and directed solid ball-control football as the Packers took 7 minutes, 28 seconds off the clock in getting a field goal.
“I have great coaches to learn from and I have a great guy to play behind and learn from,” said Flynn, who finished 11 of 18 for 126 yards, with a 100.7 rating. “I’m just trying to pick up as much as I can and be as comfortable as I can out there.”
Guys fighting for their NFL lives on the bottom half of the roster are never comfortable, but it helps ease some anxiety to make a play or two in these preseason games.
Cornerback Josh Gordy, a former practice-squad player who was on the active roster late last season, stated his case for a roster spot in the defensive backfield with a sack and an interception.
On the sack, Gordy got the call to blitz off the edge late in the third quarter and he got to Browns backup quarterback Seneca Wallace untouched, bringing him down for a 7-yard loss. The play led to a three-and-out.
“That’s the first time I actually got called to blitz during a game,” Gordy said. “I just saw it pop wide open. I actually didn’t think I had the quarterback down at first.”
He did, though, and he made an even bigger play two snaps into the next defensive series, when he jumped in front of receiver Johnathan Haggerty and snagged third-string quarterback Jarrett Brown’s pass at the Cleveland 23-yard line.
Down 24-17 at the time, the Packers weren’t able to take advantage of the good field position, failing to score on fourth-and-goal from the 2, but Gordy set himself up as a player to watch in the battle for roster spots as the preseason unfolds.
“I’m definitely fighting right now,” Gordy said, pointing out anything he can do on special teams will enhance his chances. “These three more preseason games are going to be very critical for me and my future.
“That’s what we’re looking for, splash plays, but you have to put them together back to back. You can’t get complacent with just making a couple of plays. I have to put some more together.”