Mike McCarthy was trying to find the right 53. Todd Haley was just trying to get a win.
In what was an extraordinary preseason finale, made that way by the Kansas City coach’s decision to play his starters from beginning to end, McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson were provided the perfect environment in which to evaluate young talent for this weekend’s roster reduction to the final 53.
“This game is exactly what we needed,” McCarthy said. “It’ll give us the final evaluations we need to make the final decisions on Saturday.
“Our first group played the first series. We got 80-plus reps for our young players. Very proud of our young guys, defensive players.”
In a preseason finale that saw Aaron Rodgers and the first-team offense zip down the field 56 yards in eight plays, after the Packers’ first-team defense pitched a six-and-out at the Chiefs, the Packers’ second and third teams took over midway through the first quarter and held on for a 20-19 win against a Chiefs team that tried everything and every way to win.
Fake-punt pass? Did that.
Onside kick? Did that, too.
Haley will be ripped in the media for subjecting his starting quarterback to injury and punishing his players and inflating his team’s injury list for a meaningless win that he didn’t even get, but his players gave no hint of pouting or rebelling against their coach. They played hard to the end; they just got beat by a Packers team that appears to have the makings of an expansion team within the bottom half of its roster.
McCarthy referred to the play time his reserves got in this year’s preseason as “the highest number of plays in my time in Green Bay.” The avalanche of minutes McCarthy’s twos and threes amassed in the last two weeks of the preseason helped give birth to a new star, undrafted rookie linebacker Vic So’oto, who capped his rags-to-riches preseason with a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown on Thursday night.
“Vic played outstanding tonight; two outstanding performances back to back,” McCarthy said of So’oto. “I feel good about where we are.”
What coach wouldn’t feel good to be where McCarthy is? His starting quarterback was nothing short of sensational in the preseason, and his backups just capped the preseason by dominating the starters of a team that was in the playoffs last season. Hey, that’s a Chiefs team with a big-time running back and the league’s number one rushing offense last season.
Thursday night, the Packers held Jamaal Charles to 19 yards on nine carries, and Charles was still pounding the rock into the fourth quarter.
Always, the lead question at the coach’s postgame press conference following the final preseason game is: Are you ready to begin the season? In this case, it was just a formality.
“We’ll be ready. We’re ready,” McCarthy said.
“The fourth game is always about making decisions on the bottom half of your roster,” he said. “I’ll be extremely comfortable with the 53 players we pick. I’m excited to start getting ready for the Saints.”
Auditions are over. Beginning next Thursday, when the Packers host the New Orleans Saints and the football world in the NFL’s 2011 “Kickoff Game,” the only thing that’ll count is the final score. Evaluations? No way. Just win, baby.
“They were sharp,” McCarthy said of his starting units. “I thought they were sharp last week, except for a couple of plays. Even though they played only one series, I thought they were sharp in that one series.”
The Packers couldn’t have written a better preseason script. What script will they write over the next 16 games?