The Packers ended their preseason on Thursday with a performance worthy of the favorite’s role in which they have been cast for the 2012 NFL season, and the Packers will quickly have an opportunity to validate their position and place when they host the San Francisco 49ers.

“It was a good finish to the preseason,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of a 24-3 win over the Kansas City Chiefs that was better offensively and not as good defensively as the score would indicate.

Backup quarterback Graham Harrell completed 13 of 15 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. In the process, he satisfied fans that worried through the first three preseason games, in which Harrell and the No. 2 offense struggled to move the football and score points.

That wasn’t the case at Lambeau Field on Thursday. Harrell took over for Aaron Rodgers on the Packers’ third possession, and kick-started his night with a third-and-12 pass completion to Jermichael Finley for 27 yards. It was the impact play Harrell needed to break out of his slump, and he followed it with a 54-yard bomb to wide receiver Tori Gurley that left Alex Green to score from two yards out.

All of a sudden, Harrell was a new quarterback, and fans that worried out loud that the Packers needed to trade for a backup, cheered his every throw.

“I don’t know if we’ve had a backup, a nonstarter, play that well,” McCarthy said in a somewhat shocking statement. “Yes, I’m very pleased with Graham tonight.”

There was little about the Packers’ performance that wasn’t pleasing. The first-team offense got off to a slow start and looked sluggish, but it accomplished its primary objective: avoid injury.

The defense held firm in a couple of goal-line stands, one of which cornerback Sam Shields halted when he intercepted a Brady Quinn pass in the end zone, but Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers is no doubt displeased by the Chiefs’ 247 net yards rushing. It’s especially disconcerting when it’s considered the Packers’ opponent on opening day is the 49ers, a team that lives by the run.

It’s an opening-day game that’ll bring together two of the NFC’s top three teams. The winner of the game will no doubt step to the head of the NFC, maybe to the head of the whole league.

“People try to build up hype about us but you have to keep your feet on the ground,” veteran cornerback Jarrett Bush said. “Let the media do what they do. We have to know who we are. We’re a tough, physical team. At the same time, I feel we have a confidence about us.”

Thursday’s preseason finale had nothing to do with hype for the regular season, and everything to do with reserve players making final bids for roster spots. Harrell might not have been roster challenged, but his performance did much to ease the fans’ worries.

“It’s always fun to play well. I never doubted myself. As a second unit, guys believed they could do that all along,” Harrell said.

Gurley’s deep reception was a game-breaker and, along with his strong play on special teams, strengthened Gurley’s pitch for a roster spot. He caught two passes for 69 yards.

Undrafted rookie Jarrett Boykin led all receivers with five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. Boykin has made a late charge at a roster spot or, at worst, a place on the practice squad.

Diondre Borel, thought to be the pre-camp leader to become the team’s sixth wide receiver, caught two passes for 27 yards, including a nifty 17-yarder that included run-after-the-catch yards.

Several Packers reserves had strong games, making General Manager Ted Thompson’s task of cutting the roster to 53 on Friday more difficult than it might’ve appeared heading into Thursday’s game.

“A lot of players made strong statements. It says a lot about the whole process,” McCarthy said.

“I added pressure to myself. I feel I play better when my back is to the wall,” Gurley said. “Coach Bennett didn’t let me give up. He stayed on me all week. He motivated me to have one of the best games I’ve had as a Packer.

“On special teams, I played a really, really good game. I just pray I’m going to stay a Green Bay Packer.”

Gurley could’ve been speaking for any of the 20 or so players that will be told on Friday they are no longer a Green Bay Packer.

“They got open. When they get open, it makes my job a lot easier,” Harrell said of his receivers. “They tried to play a lot of man coverage and our guys beat them.”

Nose tackle B.J. Raji left the game with an ankle injury after just the first play. McCarthy said he did not have a “high level of concern about Raji’s injury.”

All of McCarthy’s concern is for the season opener on Sept. 9. Whereas the goals in the preseason were many – grow as a team, avoid injury, evaluate talent – there will be only one goal the rest of the way: win the game.

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