Thanks to a strong performance by backup quarterback Doug Pederson, who appears headed toward winning the backup spot to Brett Favre, the Packers rebounded from a lethargic first half to beat the Denver Broncos 22-7 Monday night before 59,177 at Lambeau Field and a national television audience.
Green Bay is 1-1 in exhibition play with the Miami Dolphins up next this Saturday night at home, but the Packers offense is 0-9 when it comes to reaching the end zone. It didn't help that the Packers played without starting running back Ahman Green (groin) and backup Dorsey Levens (broken hand). Aside from those two sitting out, the Packers had their offense intact and healthy.
"We've got to be better regardless if we lose those two guys," said Sherman. "Somebody has to step up and play. I don't want to blame it on them; other people have to step up. They didn't affect a couple of third down plays that we should have made by other guys.
Favre, who threw for 80 yards in three series during a 10-3 loss to Cleveland on Aug. 11, was 10 of 18 for 98 yards and no interceptions in six series against the Broncos. But he also was victim of a few drops by wide receiver Corey Bradford that killed a drive on Denver's 30 in the second quarter. To make matters worse, Pederson, who was holding for kicker Ryan Longwell on the ensuing field goal attempt, fumbled the snap and Denver's Bill Romanowski recovered the ball at the Packers' 44.
The Packers were just 3 of 14 (21%) on third downs.
"If you make plays on third down you keep drives going," said an irritated Sherman. Thanks to inspired two-sack efforts by defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila the Packers were able to capitalize on four Broncos turnovers, which led to 13 points. The defense also held the Broncos to 4 of 13 (31%) on third-down conversions.
Pederson's 19-yard pass to reserve wide receiver Donald Driver with 11 minutes, 18 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Packers a 13-7 lead. The touchdown came one play after reserve linebacker Donnie Spragan forced Broncos Pro Bowl running back Mike Anderson to fumble. Reserve linebacker Donte' Curry smothered the ball at the 19. Pederson then hit Driver in stride on the left side as Driver zipped through the end zone and leaped high into the first row of seats.
Pederson finished with 112 yards passing, completing 8 of 12 attempts, and showed a much better rhythm than in his first outing this preseason against Cleveland.
"The timing of things was good tonight," Pederson said. "Things have kind of fallen into place this year for me this year. Working a lot with the second unit in camp, I know how Donald Driver is going to run a route, or Corey Bradford. Tonight we were on the same page."
Driver finished with three catches for 61 yards and was named offensive MVP of the 41st Bishop's Charities game. Gbaja-Biamila was named defensive MVP.
Longwell made all five of his field goal attempts and is 6 for 6 in the preseason. He booted a 31-yarder at the start of the third quarter. His 39-yarder midway through the third quarter capped a six-play, 46-yard drive. Pederson's 30-yard pass to Driver to the Broncos' 35 keyed the drive as Longwell gave the Packers a 16-7 lead.
Longwell came back later in the third to drill a 49-yarder, then added a 29-yarder early in the fourth quarter as Green Bay went up 22-7 with 10:51 left in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay's first-team defense caused the Broncos to turn the ball over twice on its first two possessions, but the Broncos drove 80 yards to take a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter on Brian Griese's 1-yard pass to tight end Patrick Hape.
The Packers had a great opportunity to force the Broncos to punt early in the drive, but cornerback Tod McBride was flagged for unnecessary roughness on wide receiver Rod Smith on third down after Griese threw incomplete. The Broncos got the ball at their own 45 then pounded down to the one behind Anderson before Hape broke free in the left side of the end zone on fourth-and-goal for an easy catch.
Like the exhibition opener, the Packers' first-team defense was missing five starters because of injuries and a pending suspension. The Packers also played without first-round pick Jamal Reynolds who bruised his knee in practice on Aug. 17.
Longwell's 30-yard field goal with 9:03 left in the first quarter gave the Packers a 3-0 lead. Cornerback Mike McKenzie set up the score by stepping in front of wide receiver Eddie Kennison and intercepting quarterback Brian Griese's pass at the 35 before returning it nine yards to the 44.
Favre completed all three of his passes in the first series, including 37-yarder to Bill Schroeder down the left sideline to the 19. A holding penalty on left guard Mike Wahle pushed the Packers back to the 29. Running back Rondell Mealey was stopped for a loss of two yards on third and one from the 10, which forced the Packers to settle for the field goal.
McKenzie struck again on Denver's second offensive series by jarring the ball loose from Smith. Linebacker K.D. Williams, starting for Diggs, recovered on Green Bay's 49. The Packers were forced to punt because of a broken play on third down. Favre threw deep down the right sideline while wide receiver Antonio Freeman ran a square out and the ball was nearly intercepted. Sherman said the broken play was "miscommunication" between Freeman and Favre.
Freeman suffered a concussion after a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit by safety Eric Brown in the second quarter on an incomplete pass. Fortunately, Freeman was able to walk off the field while a fine appears imminent for Brown.