SAN DIEGO—A team that roared to a 15-1 record last season on the strength of its offense, struggled on that side of the ball in a 21-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on Thursday, in what was the preseason opener for both teams.

“We have a lot of work to do. That’s evident,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following the game. “I feel like you normally do after your first preseason game. The way we handled the football to start the game, I’m not happy about that. We need to spend some time on handling the football.”

Running back James Starks got off to a slow start in the Packers’ opening drive by dropping a pass that likely would’ve gained significant yardage. Six plays later, Starks fumbled and the Chargers recovered.

Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers spent most of the three series he played scrambling from the Chargers pass-rush. He was forced to throw the ball away on a few occasions and the interception he threw was the result of being hit from his blindside as he released the pass.

A quarterback coming off a record-setting season threw for only 16 yards against the Chargers. The Packers were truly off last year’s script.

“Preseason, stuff happens. You don’t play as well as you want, but it’s the preseason,” Rodgers said. “Whether you play well or struggle, it’s the preseason. We’ll get a tongue lashing and come back next week.

“We’ll be fine,” Rodgers said.

Backup quarterback Graham Harrell came to life late in the first half, in a two-minute drill that seemed to give Harrell and the offense some rhythm.

“I love it,” Harrell said of the two-minute drill. “Get the ball and let’s roll.”

Harrell is attempting to secure the backup job in this preseason. He led a 68-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that would’ve given the Packers a one-point lead, had rookie wide receiver Jarrett Boykin been able to make the catch on the Packers’ two-point conversion try. Boykin had the pass in his hands briefly.

“Hopefully, next week we’ll start faster,” Harrell said, referring to the Packers’ preseason home opener against the Cleveland Browns.

“It’s great for me,” he added of his nearly three quarters of playing time against the Chargers. “I can only get better from it. That’s the first time I’ve ever had that much game action and you can’t replace action you get in a game.”

First-round draft pick Nick Perry excited a large contingent of Packers fans in attendance, when Perry sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on the first series of the game. Perry was drafted for the purpose of fixing the Packers’ anemic pass rush and he gave strong indications he’s capable of doing that.

“I’m pretty confident in my training. You practice hard, the games become a little easier. I think I did a good job out there,” said Perry, who was also credited with three tackles and a quarterback hurry.

The Packers were a much better tackling defense Thursday night. Missed tackles were a major issue last season.

“It felt good out there,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “Our main focus was to play hard, get to the ball, make tackles. We did a good job for the start of the preseason.”

Cornerback Tramon Williams and safety Anthony Levine made interceptions. Cornerback Davon House left the game in the second half with a shoulder injury.

The Packers’ main concern is the status of linebacker Desmond Bishop’s injured knee. McCarthy termed it a “knee sprain” that would require further evaluation before its severity is known. McCarthy said the knee injury, which Bishop sustained while making a tackle, also involves the hamstring.

“We left a lot of people at home. Injuries were an issue for us coming into this game. Bishop’s didn’t look very good,” McCarthy said.

Also added to the injury report are wide receivers Diondre Borel (groin) and Shaky Smithson (ankle), and Levine (back).

Related links