If it had been, the Packers wouldn’t have chosen to go for it on fourth down four times while in field-goal range. Had they played it like a regular-season game and taken the points readily available, the game quite likely wouldn’t have ended 17-13 in favor of the Chiefs at New Arrowhead Stadium.
Instead, this game was about evaluating players for the final roster spots – the cuts to establish the 53-man roster will be made Saturday – and also getting a gauge on backup quarterback Matt Flynn’s development in his third season behind starter Aaron Rodgers.
The former produces a couple of tough days ahead for the players, coaches and everyone involved. As far as the latter goes, the Packers had to be pleased with what they saw.
Rodgers got the night off thanks to Head Coach Mike McCarthy, giving Flynn his first start since the 2007 BCS National Championship for LSU against Ohio State. It didn’t begin in the most impressive of fashions, with Flynn and the offense going three-and-out on four consecutive tries.
But beginning in the second quarter, Flynn found a rhythm and put together some productive drives. Over a stretch of four straight possessions spanning the second and third quarters, Flynn:
--Drove the offense 71 yards to the Kansas City 5-yard line, hitting passes of 22 and 14 yards to receiver Brett Swain along the way. The drive bogged down, though, and the first of four aggressive calls on fourth down resulted in an incomplete pass to Swain in the end zone that was broken up at the last moment by Kansas City cornerback Javier Arenas.
--Efficiently executed the 2-minute drill at the end of the first half to move the ball 60 yards and set up a 40-yard field goal by Mason Crosby with 16 seconds left. A 29-yard connection to receiver Patrick Williams was the key play.
--Began the third quarter with the biggest play of his pro career to date, a play-action fake that left Swain wide open down the right side of the field. He hauled in Flynn’s pass and was off to the races, gaining 77 yards all the way down to the Kansas City 5.
“I think they busted the coverage a little bit,” Flynn said. “Those are kind of the toughest throws to make when guys are wide open down the field. I was just thinking to myself don’t overthrow it, just get it to him and let him make the play. He did a real nice job and real nice run after the catch.”
From there, running back Kregg Lumpkin needed two carries to score, with his 1-yard touchdown run counting courtesy of a Green Bay challenge after Lumpkin had originally been ruled down inside the 1. The TD pulled the Packers within 14-10 just four minutes into the third quarter.
--Marched the offense one final time into scoring range, hitting Lumpkin for 16 yards on a screen and receiver Charles Dillon for 22 yards over the middle. But on fourth-and-2 from the Kansas City 19, for a second time the Packers passed on the field goal and Flynn’s pass to receiver Chastin West fell incomplete.
When it was all said and done, Flynn had produced just 10 points but had thrown for 304 yards, completing 23-of-37 passes for an 88.1 rating. McCarthy credited him for keeping the offense in good plays at the line of scrimmage, while Swain (six catches, 130 yards) and Williams (5-70) were his most productive targets on a night the team’s top receivers left after just one series.
“I’m disappointed with the way I started out the game,” said Flynn, who noted in his halftime comments that his footwork wasn’t sound early on. “That’s just not acceptable. I made some bad throws. But I started getting a little more rhythm into the game, we ended up making some nice plays and the receivers did a good job. It went pretty well.”
The game was especially big for Flynn because he had never received this much playing time before. His rookie season in 2008, he was the No. 3 quarterback during camp, and last year he had an injured shoulder at this stage, so he hadn’t experienced the extended opportunity in the fourth preseason game that is common for a primary backup QB.
“Anytime I can get some game experience, go out there under the lights and play with some crowd noise and play against a different colored jersey, it just helps me a lot,” he said. “I feel like each week this preseason I got a little bit better, and I feel good about what happened tonight.”
So did his teammates, who complimented him on bouncing back from the rough start, which included two third-down completions that were just shy of the first-down sticks.
“Matt did great,” Swain said. “You need a guy like that, especially behind a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers. He wants to be good. He puts a lot of hard work in during the week and it’s great to see him perform like that.”
Rodgers wasn’t the only marquee player to take a rest Thursday. Running back Ryan Grant and cornerback Charles Woodson also were healthy scratches, while four other starters – tackle Chad Clifton, linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, and defensive end Cullen Jenkins – were among the nine players out due to injury.
The rest of Green Bay’s projected starters for Week 1 of the regular season were pulled by the 13-minute mark of the first quarter, after each team had gone three-and-out to start the game.
The Chiefs, who wasted a 44-yard punt return by Arenas by missing a field goal on their first possession, left their starters in a bit longer and took the early lead before Flynn got the Packers going. A 30-yard pass from quarterback Matt Cassel to receiver Dwayne Bowe set up a 2-yard scoring toss to tight end Leonard Pope and a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
Then a 50-yard jaunt by running back Jackie Battle led to Battle’s own 1-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal midway through the second quarter. The defense had nearly gotten the stop, denying Battle from the 1-yard line on third down, but his repeat try made it 14-0.
Kansas City’s other score came following a 43-yard catch-and-run by running back Tim Castille. That led to a short field goal for a 17-10 Chiefs advantage late in the third.
Green Bay’s No. 3 quarterback, Graham Harrell, then made a run at a fourth-quarter comeback.
He drove the offense 53 yards all the way to the Kansas City 11 before a third-down screen pass was blown up in the backfield for a 7-yard loss. Crosby was good from 41 yards out to make it 17-13 with 6:12 left.
Harrell followed with two more drives into scoring range but came up empty. First, helped by a 14-yard pass to Dillon (six catches, 85 yards), he got the offense down to the Chiefs’ 21. But his scrambling fourth-down pass to fullback John Kuhn went off Kuhn’s fingertips.
The Packers’ last chance came with Harrell hitting Dillon again for 21 yards to get the ball to midfield with under a minute and a half to go. A pass interference penalty and an 8-yard completion to Dillon moved the ball all the way to the Kansas City 29 with 30 seconds left, but a final try to Dillon on fourth-and-2 fell incomplete.
The loss concluded the Packers’ preseason at 2-2, with the team now just a little over a week away from the regular-season opener Sept. 12 in Philadelphia. All the hype and expectations will soon give way to the games that really matter.
“I’m super-excited,” linebacker Nick Barnett said. “Preseason is done. Training camp is done. Now we can get to business. This stuff is for real. We look forward to this journey. It all starts in Philly, so we’re excited about it.”
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