The Green Bay Packers won their first preseason game, 27-24, on Friday night at Denver. The performance had to leave the Packers feeling, well, a mile high, six days after a 34-6 debacle at San Francisco.
Aaron Rodgers and the first-team offense, so abysmal against the 49ers, scored on four of five possessions and got the rest of the night off while staking the Packers to a 20-17 lead early in the third quarter.
"I think tonight was a big step for us," Rodgers said. "We needed to make a statement in a game that we get to play the most."
Both teams are 1-2.
Rodgers was superb against Denver's top-notch secondary, finishing 18-of-22 for 193 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a glittering rating of 118.4 points. Of his four incompletions, one was a throwaway, one was a drop and another should have been ruled pass interference.
As the saying goes, it's never as good or as bad as it seems, and that certainly applies. There was a bit of a sky-is-falling feeling after last week's game, even though two dropped passes that would have gone for touchdowns in the first half would have changed the complexion of that game.
On Friday, the first-team defense, which had played so well in the scrimmage and first two preseason games, couldn't handle Denver's run game. The Broncos rushed for 91 yards in the first half with a 6.1-yard average.
That was a big reason why the Packers trailed 17-13 at halftime despite the offense's productivity. The Broncos scored on all three first-half possessions, including a 99-yard touchdown drive that could have been stopped near the opposite goal line had Nick Barnett wrapped up Peyton Hillis on third-and-8 from the Denver 3.
That drive was capped by the first of Jay Cutler's two touchdown passes and put Denver up 10-7. Rodgers drove the Packers to a tying field goal — a possession killed by a second-down drop by James Jones — but Cutler quickly answered. A questionable 31-yard interference penalty by Tramon Williams set up a juggling 49-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to Brandon Marshall. Williams was in position but failed to make the play.
Rodgers pulled the Packers within 17-13 at halftime by hitting his first five passes in a two-minute drill, setting up a 46-yard field goal by Mason Crosby.
Rodgers stayed hot coming out of the locker room. A 43-yard punt return by Will Blackmon set the Packers up at Denver's 40-yard line. Rodgers capped the drive with a sneak on third-and-goal from the 1 to put Green Bay in front 20-17.
"We put together drives," Rodgers said. "Last week, we didn't convert third downs, had too many penalties and had some turnovers. This week, we converted third down, and when I was in there we scored on four of five possessions."
The Packers seemed headed to 0-3, however, before Jason Hunter hammered Broncos quarterback Patrick Ramsay, forcing an interception by Tracy White. Set up at Denver's 10-yard line, the Packers scored the winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal with a 1-yard run by Kregg Lumpkin.
"We didn't play very well last week and we played a lot better this week and we won the football game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Success is hard to achieve in this league, regardless of what time of year you do win football games."
Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org