NASHVILLE—The Packers didn’t need all of their stars for the No. 1 offense to get off to a strong preseason start.
With quarterback Matt Flynn starting for Aaron Rodgers and running back James Starks taking Eddie Lacy’s place, the Packers marched right down rainy LP Field to start Saturday night’s preseason opener and looked pretty good doing it.
The eight-play, 64-yard touchdown drive was the opening score in what became a soaking-wet, 20-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans. It was highlighted by six Starks runs for 49 yards, including a 20-yard TD scamper less than 4 ½ minutes into the contest. The running game, even without Lacy, looked downright dominant.
“That’s always what the O-line wants to do,” new center JC Tretter said. “It was a great start, especially the first drive of the season. I think that sets a good tone for how we want to play.”
Receiver Jordy Nelson took the night off, too, and most of the first unit aside from Tretter exited after their crisp debut.
“With the weather and stuff, we didn’t let it alter how we were playing,” Starks said. “We got off to a fast start.”
The No. 1 defense did the same, allowing only one first down on Tennessee’s first two possessions before a muffed punt by rookie receiver Davante Adams gave the Titans a short field for a score.
“It’s a starting point,” said outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who worked with counterpart Julius Peppers in a game for the first time. “We tried to form a base with the guys, build some continuity.”
Third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien then began the second half the way Flynn and the offense began the first, taking the ball right down the field.
Tolzien completed a pair of throws to receiver Chris Harper for 55 yards, while undrafted rookie running back Rajion Neal (five carries, 39 yards) pounded out runs of 15, 8 and 12 yards, the last one a TD scamper off the left side.
Head coach Mike McCarthy noted after the game that Neal sustained a knee injury.
In the middle of that 79-yard drive, Tolzien (8 of 12, 124 yards, 100.7 rating) kept the possession alive with a heads-up fumble recovery. Losing the wet ball on a rollout as he cocked his arm to throw, Tolzien grabbed Tennessee linebacker Brandon Copeland around the waist as he reached to recover the ball, pulled Copeland away and dove in front of him to get the ball himself.
“It’s an awful feeling when you go forward with your arm and it gets really light because there’s no ball there,” Tolzien said. “The ball was on the ground. That’s your possession. It was just a reaction to trying to get the ball. Kind of takes you back to backyard football.”
Harper appeared to be making a move in the crowded competition at receiver, but he failed to haul in what appeared to be a catchable ball on the 2-point conversion try right after Neal’s TD. He also couldn’t corral a short fourth-down throw in the fourth quarter that would have kept the chains moving.
Adams had a similar night of ups and downs, catching two passes for 22 yards but fumbling two punts. He recovered the first one himself but wasn’t so lucky on the second.
"The coaches are not naïve to the fact that it’s the hardest rain in the world, but I’ve got to come up with those," Adams said.
Deeper down the depth chart, two defenders made standout plays in the fourth quarter that gave the Packers a chance to win.
Former practice-squad cornerback Jumal Rolle had a strip-sack of Titans rookie QB Zach Mettenberger, but the Packers offense was unable to take advantage of a possession that started in Tennessee territory.
Moments later, Mettenberger’s short pass over the middle to running back Jackie Battle deflected way up into the air, and undrafted rookie linebacker Korey Jones cradled it for an interception.
“I jumped a little early and lost it in the lights, so I’m just happy I came down with it,” said Jones, who had been quiet thus far in training camp but now has a building block in his bid to earn a roster spot. “Right place, right time. It was fun. Can’t wait to do it again.”
Jones ran the ball back to the Tennessee 13-yard line, and the Packers kicked a field goal that gave them a 16-13 lead at the time.
It didn’t hold up, as the Packers’ No. 3 defense couldn’t make it three stops in a row, but some key objectives were reached as everybody who dressed, played, and did so in adverse conditions.
“It stinks that you lose, but it’s the first preseason game, so you have to build on it,” Tolzien said.
The Packers will try to do that next Saturday in, thankfully, a climate-controlled dome in St. Louis. Additional game coverage -