LANDOVER, Md. – Well, that didn’t take long.
Making his preseason debut Saturday night, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasted no time connecting in the red zone with tight end Martellus Bennett on the opening series of Green Bay’s 21-17 win over Washington at FedExField.
Rodgers capped a 15-play, 75-yard drive that ate nearly 8 minutes off the clock in lofting a fade to Bennett in the corner of the end zone, which the former Pro Bowler pulled down for a 3-yard touchdown.
“I’m pretty athletic,” said Bennett, who has caught at least 50 passes in each of his last five NFL seasons. “I think people tend to forget that at times. I try to go get the ball when I can.”
One of the most efficient red-zone offenses in the NFL last season added another weapon to its arsenal for 2017 when the Packers signed the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Bennett, who had a career-high seven TD receptions last year in New England.
Facing second-and-goal and matched against Washington’s base defense, Green Bay split out tight end Lance Kendricks on the left side and Bennett on the right to help spread the defense.
Once it became clear Bennett was in single coverage against Washington linebacker Zach Brown, Rodgers lobbed a perfectly placed ball to Bennett and he let his height and athleticism do the rest for his first touchdown in a Packers uniform.
Bennett talked at his locker earlier this week about how he hoped to get as many reps as possible with Rodgers, in-game or during practice, before heading into the regular season.
Saturday night’s game against Washington proved to be a nice appetizer. Bennett not only caught his first touchdown from Rodgers, but also experienced what it’s like when the two-time MVP quarterback rushes the Packers to the line of scrimmage to catch an opponent with 12 players on the field.
Rodgers was even too fast for the referees, who initially missed Washington defensive tackle Stacy McGee getting off the field late. It was only after a successful challenge by Head Coach Mike McCarthy the ruling on the field was overturned and the drive continued.
Fast and efficient, Rodgers completed passes to Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Bennett before calling it a night.
“It was fast,” said Bennett of the opening series with Rodgers. “A little bit faster pace (than practice) and just getting used to him being at the helm. It was pretty fast-moving. Play calls come in quicker and things like that.”
Nowhere to run: Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and the rest of the Packers’ run defense made it a long first half for Robert Kelley and any other running back who came onto the field in the first half.
Although Washington kept most of its starters in through the first half, its offense still managed only 10 rushing yards on 11 first-half carries.
Kelley, who rushed for 137 yards last November against Green Bay, gained only nine this time around on nine carries.
“We’ve been doing a good job this whole preseason of stopping the run and doing a lot of movements,” said Clark, who contributed a 2-yard tackle for loss near the end of the first quarter.
The Packers’ defense forced four three-and-outs during the game and stopped Washington in a couple third-and-short and fourth-and-1 situations to keep the momentum in Green Bay’s favor.
“I feel like we did a good job of starting off the game and just moving forward from there,” Clark said. “We were winning our one-on-one blocks and our linebackers were hitting their gaps and making it hard for them.”
Hawkins steps up: Injuries to Davon House (hamstring) and Damarious Randall (concussion) opened the door to second-year cornerback Josh Hawkins getting his first NFL start.
Hawkins made the most of the opportunity in notching five defensive tackles, a team-high three pass deflections and adding two more coverage tackles on the Packers’ special-teams units.
The former undrafted free agent made a solid open-field tackle of running back Chris Thompson on third-and-12 to force a punt and then deflected a pass intended for veteran tight end Vernon Davis on Washington’s next possession.
He also deflected a pass to receiver Ryan Grant later in the game, denying what would have been a 4-yard touchdown catch.
“Trying to be consistent, that’s all it is,” Hawkins said. “Just try to be consistent, and when the ball is thrown your way, just making a play on it. And if you ever get beat deep, you just have to go back there and press the man to see if he can beat you deep again. Can’t be scared of anything like that.”
Safety Marwin Evans led the defense for the second consecutive week with six tackles.
Shutting the door: The Packers had only one sack Saturday night, but it couldn’t have come with better timing.
First-year linebacker Reggie Gilbert took the air out of Washington’s sails when he sacked quarterback Nate Sudfeld on first-and-10 from the Green Bay 28 with 1:27 remaining.
Three plays later, the Packers’ defense sealed the win when cornerback Daquan Holmes broke up a pass intended for receiver James Quick on fourth-and-4.