"I think he did a lot of good things with his feet," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. "I thought he was composed in the pocket and his decision-making for the most part was good. I was impressed with him in the two-minute drill. … The biggest thing with Aaron, the tempo of getting in and out of the huddle and handling different situations."
The Packers had their highs and lows against the Steelers (1-1) in the exhibition opener. They were only 5 of 17 (29.4 percent) on third-down conversions, but they didn't commit any turnovers while forcing Pittsburgh to fumble the ball away early in the game.
"We have a lot of positive things to build off of, and we have plenty of things to work on," said McCarthy, who returned to his hometown. "Offensively, I think everything that happened out there in the negative category is definitely fixable. … At times I thought our pad level was up on both sides of the ball, so those are some things we've got to work on."
Rodgers' 19-yard pass to wide receiver Ruvell Martin, plus Arnold Harrison's facemask penalty sparked the winning drive and put the ball on Pittsburgh's 25 early in the third quarter. An 18-yard completion from Rodgers to Shaun Bodiford gave the Packers first-and-goal on the 7. After calling a timeout with the ball on the 3, Rodgers hit Holiday in the left corner of the end zone with a touch pass that the athletic Holiday was able to jump up and grab over cornerback Anthony Madison.
"I felt a little rusty," Rodgers said. "I missed some throws I wanted to hit, but I feel good. We've got to build on this, but it's good to get a win."
Rookie kicker Mason Crosby boomed a 52-yard field goal (his only attempt of the night) through the uprights later in the third quarter as the Packers erased a 9-0 deficit for a 13-9 lead.
Green Bay's first- and second-team offenses struggled against the Steelers' 3-4 defense for most of the first half as the Steelers took a 9-3 lead. The Packers recorded their first first down of the half with just under 11 minutes left in the second quarter when Aaron Rodgers completed a 10-yard pass to rookie wide receiver James Jones, who finished with six catches for 58 yards.
Rodgers moved the second-team offense deep into Steelers' territory late in the first half. Running back Noah Herron ignited a series with a 14-yard run, then caught a screen pass for a 13-yard gain to the Packers' 38. Rodgers then completed passes of 5 and 21 yards to Jones to the Steelers' 36. Rodgers hit Martin with a 17-yard strike to the 17. Two plays later Rodgers threw a 15-yard pass to Martin for what appeared to be a touchdown with 10 seconds left, but the play was nullified by Martin's penalty for stepping out of bounds in the back of the end zone and being the first to touch the ball. A replay review upheld the call.
"It was a sweet play, unfortunately it got called back," Rodgers said.
Kicker Dave Rayner's 32-yard field goal (his only attempt of the night) as time expired in the half closed the Packers to 9-3.
Green Bay's first-team defense shut down Pittsburgh's first-team offense, behind Ben Roethlisberger. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins forced Roethlisberger to fumble and recovered on Pittsburgh's first series on offense. The Packers then forced the Steelers to punt the ball away on their next two possessions.
"I thought they came out and played with good pad level," McCarthy said. "They got that turnover. We had two major points of emphasis coming into the game – win the turnover battle and be the most physical team. … For the most part I was pleased with the tempo and pace of the offense and defense. Special teams, on the return units, we need to finish the blocks and do better on our coverage units."
The Steelers, behind backup quarterback Charlie Batch, took a 6-0 lead on wide receiver Walter Young's 41 reception for a touchdown. Young beat backup safety Atari Bigby over the middle and bounced off Bigby's weak tackle attempt to score easily. Defensive end Michael Montgomery's block of Jeff Reed's extra point attempt provided a silver lining.
Pittsburgh took a 9-0 lead on kicker Reed's 27-yard field goal with 12:22 left in the first half. Batch's 40-yard pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who got past Bigby and Marviel Underwood at Green Bay's 11 set up the score.
"It's nothing that we can't correct," McCarthy said. "We just have to play better fundamental football."
Brett Favre completed 2 of 7 passes for 7 yards before being replaced by Rodgers with less than a minute left in the first quarter.