Result Means Little to Packers

For the Super Bowl champions, there certainly are bigger fish to fry than a preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns.

CLEVELAND — For the first time since the celebratory confetti fell in Dallas in February, the Green Bay Packers played a football game Saturday night.

Or at least something close to that.

Even 600 miles from home, the preseason opener brought out a few thousand fans in cheeseheads, most still basking in Super Bowl glory. It brought out the real uniforms, a real opponent and a chance to start moving forward.

Real football? Nah. Not quite yet. Two weeks since the end of the NFL lockout, the 2011 Packers grade is officially an incomplete. And that's pretty much what they expected.

"It was great to be in live action," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "But I think we definitely have a lot more to offer as far as the energy and tempo and part of our focus."

The Packers starters on both sides played two series Saturday. The offense followed a quick series of misses with one familiar, quick-strike scoring drive. The defense gave up a long touchdown drive to Colt McCoy and the Browns, then got a stop before trading helmets for hats and a sideline view of the young players and backups fighting for jobs.

That the Packers rallied back from a rash of injuries and bad luck last season to reach their ultimate goal showed the overall talent level in the locker room, and if the 2011 team stays healthy it could be better than last year's bunch. But Saturday night wasn't really about the issues of chemistry, health and avoiding the Super Bowl hangover that loom. It was about running back Ryan Grant playing for the first time since breaking his ankle 11 months ago, rookie guard Derek Sherrod sharing a real huddle with Aaron Rodgers and, mostly, getting everybody back to the airport healthy.

Rodgers broke a sweat, but only because what was advertised as a dreary and rainy day in Cleveland turned out to be sunny and sticky. After missing Greg Jennings twice on a three-and-out first drive, he came back on the second, running a no-huddle offense. Rodgers followed a holding penalty by throwing a 31-yarder to Donald Driver, then stuck a fastball into Jennings' outstretched hands in the corner of the end zone from 21 yards out.

The Packers will be back. Eventually.

"It felt good to be out there with the guys," Rodgers said. "I was disappointed with the first drive but we responded well and put it in the end zone.

"I was talking to Greg on the sideline before that last drive and said, 'Hey, let's put this one in and then take a break.' Fortunately he made a great catch."

Starting Monday, Camp Distraction should turn into real training camp in Green Bay. The Packers took the long way to Cleveland, first flying to Washington, D.C., to make the ceremonial Super Bowl-champion visit to the Whie House and President Obama. When they got here, Charles Woodson rested -- just because he's Charles Woodson. Jermichael Finley warmed up but didn't play. There are much, much more important games ahead. This one didn't mean much.

The Packers offense ranked ninth in the NFL last year despite all the injuries, and was good enough to score 121 in four postseason games and win the ranking that really counts. Getting seven with Rodgers and the rest of the starters in, then seven more late in the first half with backup quarterback Matt Flynn, qualifies as an OK start. Grant got 13 yards on three carries, two behind the second-team line. James Starks ran twice for 14.

For the rebuilding Browns, every preseason snap counts. For the Packers, this is a necessary evil and a very small step toward their Sept. 8 opener vs. the Saints. That game will be fast and intense. This one was pretty basic. The Browns backups got a defensive touchdown in the third quarter and eventually won, 27-17.

Maybe the Packers are actually fine with that. They started last preseason by losing to the Browns, too.

The no-huddle is interesting, as the Packers are as scary as anybody when they spread the field and Rodgers gets hot. Eventually, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will dial up the full array of blitzes to give the offense a chance to get the ball back in prime position.

"Tonight looked like a first preseason game," Rodgers said.

If the Packers really learned anything Saturday night, it's that their secondary is a lot better with Woodson and Sam Shields on the field and that Flynn (11-of-18, 126 yards, 1 TD) can certainly play in the NFL if he's needed. That's a luxury most teams don't have, but the Packers probably knew those things already.

"We've just got to pick it up a little bit," McCarthy said. "This is our first game, our first live action, our first chance to tackle all the way through. This will be great film to learn from."

Zac Jackson covers the Browns for Fox Sports Ohio.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

Packer Report Top Stories