Sharper provides thrill in preseason win

GREEN BAY – The Packers defense took a step forward this preseason, but the offense and special teams continue to stumble.<p>

Darren Sharper's 90-yard interception return for a touchdown kept the Lambeau Field crowd from totally dozing off early on in Green Bay's 19-14 exhibition victory over the New Orleans Saints Saturday night in the 55th annual Upper Midwest Shrine Game.

Kicker Ryan Longwell chipped in by making four of five field goal attempts for the Packers, who improved to 1-1 this preseason after losing their preseason opener to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday.

The Packers won the game, but questions remain in many of the same areas that surfaced five nights ago. Backup quarterback Tim Couch had a tough time again moving the offense, punter B.J. Sander again was horrible, and Green Bay's top draft picks – Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas – learned a few hard lessons from receivers and officials.

The Packers play their final two preseason games on the road, then open the regular season in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 13. Between now and the opener, Green Bay will try to get their high-powered offense into gear.

Green Bay's first-team offense, ranked fourth in the league in total yardage last year, has yet to score a touchdown in the preseason. The Packers never got closer than the Saints' 16 in the first half behind Brett Favre. Green Bay was often a victim of its own mistakes, especially in the red zone.

"I think it's a matter of us working on it and timing and rhythm and getting the right guys," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "It's hard to work on your red zone passing game that's specific to your opponent in the preseason, so you kind of roll the dice a little bit.

"We will work on ‘red zone' routes. We've spent a fair amount of time on it, but we certainly haven't shown it in the games where we're putting the ball in the end zone enough times," Sherman said.

Tight end Bubba Franks fumbled the ball away on the Saints' 19 after catching a pass on a drive late in the second quarter. Early in the quarter, guard Steve Morley's false start helped kill a drive that ended in Longwell's missed 40-yard field goal attempt.

New Orleans took advantage of two long pass interference penalties on Carroll and Thomas in the third quarter to close to 13-7. Carroll was flagged against wide receiver Nathan Black and Thomas against Talman Gardner. The back-to-back penalties moved the Saints from their own 32 to the Packers' 1 in two plays.

"You just have to fight through it and try to get better," said Thomas, who was flagged twice for pass interference. "All you can do at this point is take it back to the drawing board, watch film and try to get better as a football player."

On the postive side, Thomas, playing in his first preseason game after bruising his knee early in training camp, intercepted a pass that set up a fourth-quarter field goal. Thomas' interception was one of four take-aways by the Packers' defense. Defensive end Tyrone Rogers also intercepted a pass, and James Lee pounced on a Saints fumble.

"We came out, our minds made up about getting after the quarterback and stopping the run," said defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt.

The Packers held the Saints to 143 yards in the first half, including 43 yards rushing. Pro Bowl running back Deuce McAllister had 40 of those yards on 11 attempts.

Longwell made field goals from 42 and 32 yards in the fourth quarter to pad Green Bay's lead to 19-7.

Saints third-string quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan connected with wide receiver Devery Henderson, who spun off Thomas after making a catch and raced 70 yards for a touchdown to make it, 19-14.

Sharper gave the Packers their first and only touchdown of the preseason by intercepting a pass by backup quarterback Todd Bouman and returning it 90 yards for a touchdown with 7:48 left in the second quarter. Bouman came off the bench during the Saints' fourth offensive series of the night after starter Aaron Brooks injured his right quadriceps muscle. Bouman attempted a pass over the middle to wide receiver Jerome Pathon, but Sharper stepped in front to make the catch, then cut back across the field from left to right on his way to the end zone.

"We had a two coverage called and usually (Michael) Hawthorne would go down before the series, but I told Hawthorne that I would switch with him and I'd go down and play man-to-man and let him go back and play safety," Sharper explained. "I just read the receiver's route and looked back at the quarterback. He tried to sneak it in there and throw it low. When I got the ball in my hands, I had a flashback to my punt return days in college, but I don't have the same speed, so I got a little tired at the end."

Favre finished 11 of 17 for 149 yards, but his backup, Tim Couch, was just 6 of 17 for 64. Many of Couch's passes were way off target, and he seems more frustrated than ever trying to learn the Packers' offense.

Sander punted five times and averaged 35.2 yards per punt. Unless he shows drastic improvement in the next couple of weeks, he may not make the team's 53-man roster. Nathan Chapman, Sander's main competition, wasn't any better, averaging 38.0 yards on three punts.

"I still believe that this punter can work through this thing," said Sherman about Sander. "I've seen him make punts that are pretty impressive. I've seen him make punts that aren't so impressive. We'll continue to work with him, but we're not going to have our head in the sand in the process. ... Everything is very, very correctable."

The Packers took a good look at Antonio Chatman as the fourth receiver with the first team offense. Chatman caught two of five passes thrown his way in the first half, both for long gains. He also was penalized for pushing off on a defensive back while running a pass route, forcing the Packers to punt.

Chatman's first reception of the night was a big one. He blew past veteran cornerback Ashley Ambrose for a 31-yard catch on Green Bay's first offensive series of the night. Chatman's catch set up Longwell's 40-yard field goal late in the first quarter that gave the Packers a 3-0 lead.

Favre completed all five of his passes in the opening drive for 51 yards.

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