"It's preseason," quarterback Aaron Rodgers mentioned twice in the midst of answering one question after Thursday's 35-10 drubbing at the hands of the Cleveland Browns.
Not that what was witnessed at Lambeau Field was meaningless.
The running game was a nonfactor. Take away quarterback scrambles, and the Packers rushed 13 times for 22 yards, with Alex Green's 5-yarder being the long for the night. Last season, the Packers' 14 giveaways set a franchise record and was second-best figure in the league. They've turned the ball over seven times in two preseason games this summer. Among the three on Thursday night was a fumble by Randall Cobb that probably took points off the board for Green Bay and resulted in three points for Cleveland.
"We turned the damn ball over too much," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I don't care if it's preseason, scrimmage, practice, it's something that needs to stop. There's no excuse for that. As much as we train taking care of the football and emphasize it, it's important that the things you do every single day in your practice structure show up on game days. The offense and the special teams, we've got to take care of the football."
Last season, the Packers ranked last in the league in sacks per passing attempts. This summer, they've got two sacks, including none on Thursday.
The rest of what happened, however, is almost meaningless for a team that's building toward another championship run and doesn't need to be in championship form in Week 1. For the most part, the Packers played their starters for one quarter while the Browns' first-teamers played the first half. Offensively, Graham Harrell was terrible, but if he got thrust into a real game, he'd be surrounded by the Packers' front-line receivers and blockers. Defensively, the Browns converted 10-of-18 on third down (plus their only fourth-down attempt) but just 2-of-5 to start the game."
After a turnover, Rodgers just missed a wide-open Jordy Nelson but went back to him for a 20-yard touchdown to open the game. The second possession was so smooth that the Packers picked up three first downs and never faced a third down until Cobb's fumble. A promising third possession ended when Alex Green missed a blitz on third down and Rodgers couldn't hit Donald Driver on fourth down.
In all, Rodgers went 6-of-11 for 100 yards and a touchdown – ho-hum, on the surface, but good for a typical Rodgers-esque passer rating of 100.2.
The numbers, however, don't mean nearly as much as the "feel." For Rodgers, that means the cerebral side of the game. As he runs a no-huddle attack, the play is practically secondary to what happens before the play. For Rodgers, what matters are the adjustments made before the snap and the quick decision made after the snap.
"The feeling I think is the most important thing," Rodgers said. "How I'm feeling in the pocket, how we're feeling. You take away from tonight, I think some positives (is) the way the line blocked. I thought that the time that we had was great in the pocket and ability to move and have good clean throwing lanes. I think the guys up front did a great job. The communication is always important. Obviously, we want to score every time we get the ball and don't want to lose by 22 at home, but you have to remember that our starters didn't play more than a quarter."
Defensively, the unit's calling card since Dom Capers' arrival has been takeaways. The Packers forced turnovers on two of their first four possessions against San Diego and started Thursday night's game with another when Charles Woodson came up from safety to strip the ball from Montario Hardesty.
In the three series in which the full starting defense was on the field, Cleveland managed 43 yards and two field goals. The fourth series, featuring a mix-and-match defense of starters and backups, allowed a 45-yard touchdown drive. A fifth series, with even more backups in the lineup but still a few starters, resulted in a three-and-out punt.
"This is going on my seventh year – which is crazy, that it's gone that fast – so I've been a part of a decent amount of preseason games," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "But I feel like they're all important. It's important to come out and show well and get a win. And we haven't done that yet. I definitely don't think you can overlook that. People will talk about it, ‘Oh, it's preseason. It doesn't mean anything.' Well, it does. We're on the field, we're playing football. It's live, we're playing against someone else, not ourselves. So, it's definitely important for us to come out and make plays."
The Packers take another swing at things at Cincinnati next Thursday. Does McCarthy think it's important to get a win?
"I don't," he said. "If you'd have asked me that question probably earlier in my career, it probably would have stung me a little more. The preseason, it's important for the team to grow, and I don't think your win-loss record always tells you that. Because, fourth-and-2, I would never go for it in that particular situation. That was clearly a situation where my first offense had 18 plays and our target was for them to play 20. So, I thought, if I can get a first down, we get them to 20, get them out of the game, I don't want to put them back in there for another series because I wanted Graham and those No. 2s to play as soon as possible in the game. I'm not making excuses but those are the types of things that I think about, the way I go about the preseason. I'm trying to get as much information for Ted Thompson and I and this staff to sit down to make sure we're making the right decisions. I don't like 0-2 but the reality is we need to be 1-0 when our regular season starts."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.