FOXBORO, Mass. – The Packers found depth where they needed it most, and that made Thursday night’s performance more valuable than the 22-11 win it produced.
“I’m very pleased with the start to our preseason. It’s about creating as many opportunities for your football team you possibly can. Fundamentals will be evaluated. The tape will be excellent. I feel good about the work we were able to get done,” Mike McCarthy said of the first game in his time as head coach of the Packers that he didn’t call the offensive plays.
“I’m bored stiff,” he joked in his halftime quotes. “It’s totally different. It’s a different role. You do enjoy the game more. That’s what a number of people told me beforehand.”
Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements took his first steps as the Packers’ play caller, and he got high marks from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, though calling plays in the preseason opener was more about creating opportunities for evaluation of talent than out-scheming the opponent.
“Tom was very calm on the headset. He enunciated well. Tom did a really good job,” Rodgers said of Clements.
Rodgers started the game and played through the first quarter. He completed 11 of a surprising 19 pass attempts for 117 yards. Second-year wide receiver Davante Adams was Rodgers’ No. 1 target, in what was a strong opportunity to evaluate Adams’ hold on the No. 3 receiver role.
The depth emerged most obviously at quarterback and cornerback. Rodgers’ backup, Scott Tolzien, completed 10 of 16 passes for 107 yards, one touchdown and a 102.9 passer rating. Tolzien was efficient in a 60-yard touchdown drive he capped with a 26-yard touchdown toss to Jeff Janis.
Brett Hundley, a rookie fifth-round draft pick, capped a 61-yard touchdown drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to undrafted running back John Crockett.
“It was fun to see Brett get a touchdown. He’s a great kid. Scott, this is natural progression for him,” Rodgers said.
“It feels good. It was a good outing for us. We moved the ball well. We had a lot of reps,” Rodgers said. “We had one personnel group the whole time. We made some plays, we missed some plays. That’s what the preseason is for.”
The Packers’ first drive moved 78 yards before stalling at the 2-yard line. McCarthy wasn’t fazed by the Packers’ red-zone failures.
“I don’t think I’ll be going on fourth down six times. It was really about the opportunities,” he said. “We want to score more touchdowns, but I’m more focused on the opportunities. Those were very valuable reps.”
Cornerback, a position at which the Packers lost Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency and on which the Packers spent their first two draft picks, got a big boost from second-round pick Quinten Rollins and undrafted rookie LaDarius Gunter, who’s been one of the stars of training camp. Gunter intercepted a Jimmy Garoppolo pass in the third quarter, and Rollins was officially credited with two passes-defensed, though he appeared to have had three. One of those passes-defensed was a near interception in the end zone.
“Quinten played really well,” Rodgers volunteered.
“I thought they did some really good things. We’re getting our hands on a lot of balls. It’s happening a lot more this year than in past years,” McCarthy said of his cornerbacks’ play.
“Our inside linebackers made plays. I thought our defense was very active,” McCarthy added.
“It’s a new year. It’s great work. It’s exactly what we needed.”