LANDOVER, Md. – A strong effort from the No. 1 units on offense and defense was the most important aspect of the Packers’ preseason game Saturday night.
Some fourth-quarter drama on both sides of the ball was fun to watch, too, as Green Bay left FedExField with a 21-17 victory over Washington.
“It’s important to stack successes and we stacked one tonight,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the Packers improved to 2-0 this preseason.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers played one series and made the most of it, directing an impressive 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that consumed 7 minutes, 41 seconds.
After catching the Redskins with 12 men on the field on the opening third down, Rodgers and the offense were highly efficient as Green Bay’s top three receivers all caught passes and rookie running back Jamaal Williams carried five times for 15 yards.
“Looking for the offense to get off to a good start, get that first drive together,” McCarthy said. “I thought our run-pass mix was excellent, Aaron played extremely well, and we hit the target.”
Rodgers finished off the drive with a 3-yard TD pass to new tight end Martellus Bennett on a fade route, which he was pleased to practice in a game setting.
“It was good,” said Rodgers, who was 6-of-8 for 37 yards on the drive. “I threw it a little low. He’s been calling for it up high. He had a great route, nice release off the ball and a lot of separation.
“We’ll keep working on it. He did a good job for us and he’ll be a big part of our offense.”
Rodgers felt it was beneficial for Bennett and veteran guard Jahri Evans, the two new additions to the starting offense, to “feel the tempo” of a long, successful drive. He expects the first unit to play longer next week in Denver.
The defense put together a strong start as well. Green Bay forced, in essence, three straight three-and-outs in the first quarter sandwiched around a muffed punt by Trevor Davis.
Taking over in the red zone in Packers’ territory after the fumble, the Redskins could do nothing and settled for a field goal. Top running back Rob Kelley managed just nine yards on nine carries.
The Redskins left their primary offense, led by QB Kirk Cousins, in for the entire first half. Even with the Packers substituting through the second quarter, Washington didn’t find the end zone until just a few seconds before halftime.
“It was important for them,” Rodgers said. “There were a lot of young guys on the second unit against their first team, and we shut them down pretty good. They’ll take a lot of pride in that when they watch the film tomorrow.”
McCarthy harped on the defense’s tackling all week after a sub-par performance in that area in the preseason opener last week. The tackling was clearly sharper, and the offense cleaned up its ball-security issues as well, aside from the one miscue by Davis.
“It was definitely a major emphasis. I was very pleased with the way we performed in both fundamentals,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know how many tackles we broke, but I thought it was double digits, and I thought we tackled very well in the open field.
“We had the one turnover, but protecting the ball, the guys were very conscientious. We took a step in the right direction, and that’s what I was looking for.”
On the injury front, defensive lineman Dean Lowry left with a knee injury, while linebacker Jordan Tripp had a concussion. Cornerback LaDarius Gunter was also evaluated for a concussion but was cleared, while linebacker Derrick Matthews was still getting checked out postgame. Safety Jermaine Whitehead also left with a hip injury.
Backup QB Brett Hundley directed a second-quarter TD drive, highlighted by a 38-yard sideline pass to Jeff Janis and a 5-yard TD toss to rookie running back Aaron Jones. It put Green Bay up 14-3.
Hundley finished 9-of-10 for 107 yards on the night, which McCarthy called “one of his best” with the Packers. A key completion on third-and-long to open the second half was called back for a holding penalty or his night might have been even better.
“He’s picking up where he left off after his rookie season,” said Rodgers of Hundley, who missed much of last preseason due to injury. “The stuff you see on the field is the stuff we see in practice. He gets out there, and once he finds his rhythm and comfort, he makes plays.
“He’s moving in the pocket well and continuing to take strides. He’s fun to watch, and fun to be with in the room.”
Rodgers feels the same way about Joe Callahan and Taysom Hill, and it was Hill, the undrafted rookie from BYU, who came through in the fourth quarter.
With the Packers down by three, Hill converted on fourth-and-1 with a 9-yard scramble. Two plays later, with the Redskins sending a blitz, Hill took off up the middle and raced 23 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
“I was watching a highlight the other day, when he hurdled that guy against Texas – he’s super-athletic,” Rodgers said of Hill, who had 49 yards passing and 38 rushing. “He’s just a great kid, he’s been working really hard, and it’s fun to see those guys get out there and play well.”
The Packers needed their youngest prospects on defense to hold up on one final Washington drive to seal the win. A fourth-down pass breakup by rookie cornerback Daquan Holmes from the Green Bay 22-yard line with 1:01 left did the trick.
“Our young guys as a whole, a lot of good football, a lot of good plays,” McCarthy said. “There were some individual breakdowns and some situations it wasn’t as clean, but that’s why it’s the preseason.
“When we get done evaluating the film we’ll feel we’ve taken a step, and that was the goal coming in here tonight.”
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