Positive first impression

The Packers lose preseason opener 20-17 to Cincinnati, but Green Bay dominated when the starting units were on the field in the first quarter. "I'm not jumping up and down. We didn't win the game." coach Mike McCarthy said.

Aaron Rodgers was greeted with a booming standing ovation as he walked to the line of scrimmage to take the opening snap of Monday night's preseason opener.

This time, he did not turn turn the cheers into the jeers.

Rodgers was sharp in the Green Bay Packers' 20-17 preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Lambeau Field. In four pass-happy possessions, Rodgers completed 9 of 15 passes for 117 yards. He threw one touchdown, a sensational helmetless effort by James Jones, and one interception, a ball that hit receiver Chris Francies in the numbers.

Not bad, just eight days after turning cheers into boos in the Family Night Scrimmage and only five days after the Packers traded iconic quarterback Brett Favre to the New York Jets.

"I understand the attention around him, his performance tonight and him playing tonight." Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "But I saw Aaron just like he is every day. I thought he went out there, he played with excellent energy, which I always recall him playing with. I think he's done a really good job being consistent, and understanding that the microscope is on him, with all the attention."

The Packers might have lost, but they won the first quarter when it was starters vs. starters. Or, something resembling starters vs. starters. The Packers were without seven starters — including prominent performers Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Ryan Grant, Greg Jennings and Ryan Pickett — while the Bengals were minus four starters, including running back Rudi Johnson and receiver T.J. Houshmanzadeh.

It was 10-0 after the opening 15 minutes, with Rodgers and Co. rolling up 152 yards and the Bengals' 19. It was 8-zip in first downs, even with second-string cornerbacks Jarrett Bush and Tramon Williams facing Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer.

The domination might have been more thorough had Donald Driver not killed a drive by dropping a third-down slant and Francies not killed a drive inside the Bengals' 30 by turning a first-down catch into an interception.

The Packers got on the board 3-0 with 4 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter on a 37-yard field goal by Mason Crosby, but even that drive could have been more fruitful. James Jones lost his man on a corner route, but Rodgers' pass was a half-step too far.

"James told me he should have caught it, and I told him I should have just taken a little bit off it," Rodgers said. "That's a ball you'd love to have back and just take a little bit off it, not realizing he's going to be that wide open."

Rodgers' final drive was a six-play, 75-yard march that was culminated by a 30-yard catch-and-run by Jones, who absorbed a sandwiching hit by a pair of defenders and trotted into the end zone, sans helmet.

"He rang me pretty good," Jones said. "I felt like I had a little stinger going down my shoulder, but other than that, it was all right. It wasn't that hard of a hit. It probably looked hard, but it wasn't that hard. I was able to regroup."

While Rodgers bought himself, oh, a week's reprieve with his performance, the starting defense was at its devastating best in the first quarter.

Eschewing the exotic blitzes that have been a hallmark of training camp, the Packers stayed vanilla but simply outmanned the Bengals. Cincinnati's first drive ended with Nick Barnett smothering a swing pass to running back Chris Perry. The second ended with Michael Montgomery hitting Palmer and Tramon Williams almost picking off Palmer's deep throw to Antonio Chatman. The third drive included pass breakups by Williams and A.J. Hawk.

McCarthy challenged his defense to be the power of the post-Favre Packers. His players answered by yielding a measly 13 yards on nine first-quarter plays.

"I think the defense played outstanding," said safety Aaron Rouse, who raced across the field for a third-quarter interception. "Obviously, we're not where we want to be but I think we're headed in the right direction."

While the Bengals were outgained 383-241 and converted only 4-of-15 third downs, they prevailed because the Packers had three turnovers and seven penalties for 75 yards (compared to one turnover and two penalties for 10 yards). The final Packers turnover came on a fumble in the minute by No. 4 halfback Kregg Lumpkin, who minutes earlier scored an 11-yard touchdown on a screen from No. 3 quarterback Matt Flynn.

So, there's plenty of good for McCarthy and the coaching staff to build on, but plenty of bad to keep the players focused heading into Saturday's preseason game at San Francisco.

"I'm not jumping up and down," McCarthy said. "We didn't win the game, No. 1. No. 2, the turnover ratio, we came on the short end of that. That's not what we're looking for as a football team. We had too many sacks (and) negative plays that really factor into your performance."

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