KANSAS CITY – Coach Mike McCarthy clearly signaled the priority of the Green Bay Packers’ preseason finale Thursday night when he chose not to even dress quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Ryan Grant and cornerback Charles Woodson.
All three were healthy to play, but McCarthy was taking no chances with his quarterback and two key starters, and he didn’t take much more risk with the rest of his starters on both sides of the ball, because he pulled them after only one series. Mission accomplished.
The Packers appear to have came out of their 17-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs with no new injuries to their starters or key players. With linebacker Clay Matthews expected back from his hamstring injury and defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) possibly returning after missing two games, the Packers could have their preferred starting lineup on the field for their regular-season opener at Philadelphia next week.
“Clearly a coach’s decision (on Rodgers, Clifton and Woodson),” coach Mike McCarthy said, “and something I think about all the time. I feel we came out of the game relatively healthy. (Friday) morning always gives you the true picture of where you are as the health of your football team.”
Another of the Packers’ priorities was to take a long look at Jason Chery to see if he is a viable option as the primary return man after he took back his first punt return of the preseason for a 75-yard touchdown last week against Indianapolis. Based on this showing, he probably did just enough to stay in contention for a roster spot, depending in part on the shaky health of Will Blackmon, who has been having knee soreness all training camp in his attempt to return from knee-reconstruction surgery last year.
Chery’s charge for the night was to protect the ball and show he could pose something of a threat as a punt and kickoff returner. As to the former, the night started horribly when he fumbled on the game’s opening kickoff – the Packers’ John Kuhn recovered. Thereafter he handled the ball well, though he didn’t have much running room on two impotent kickoff returns. He was more effective returning punts, at least good enough to stay in the running for a spot on the 53-man roster, or at least the practice squad with the chance of a quick promotion at a moment’s notice.
“He’s definitely got potential,” said Shawn Slocum, the Packers’ special teams coach. “You guys have seen his speed, we all have, and he’s got a uniqueness in the way he can run north and south. I’d like to have seen him with our full contingent of blockers in front of him for the whole game, and I thought he was challenged a little there on those latter kickoff returns, we didn’t block very well for him.”
For the night, Chery averaged only 16.0 yards on the three kickoff returns, and a decent 9.0 yards on three punt returns.
On his first punt return he gained only one yard when he tried to reverse field against good coverage. But on both returns in the second half, he showed improving decisiveness and picked up 11 and 15 yards, respectively. On the 11-yarder after a 61-yard punt by Dustin Colquitt, Chery made the first tackler miss and got upfield quickly. On the 15-yarder he immediately went upfield after the catch and weaved for 15 yards.
Chery also fielded the ball cleanly on two fair catches.
The Packers have to make their decision on Chery by 5 p.m. Saturday, when NFL teams have to make final cuts. The first-year pro was a practice-squad player for only a few weeks with Carolina and then Pittsburgh, so he has no history as a return man in the NFL. The Packers have only the last two games to go on, so part of their decision could depend what Blackmon’s odds are of making it through the season healthy.
“(Blackmon) is having a lot of – he’s had a setback,” McCarthy said. “We’ll have more information when we get back, so hopefully he’s had productive rehab the last couple days.
“He’s coming off major surgery, and if you sat in on the doctor meetings this all falls into normal protocol particularly of a perimeter player that had a significant injury to his knee. He’s going through a tough spot right now.”
The Packers also could hope a return man is cut by another team and pick him up on waivers, but the odds are against a viable return man being available.
With Rodgers not playing, backup Matt Flynn started and received the most extensive playing time of his career, though he wasn’t helped by playing behind a mix of backup offensive linemen and receivers after the first series.
Flynn started the game poorly and had three-and-outs on his first four series and led the Packers to only 10 points while playing barely more than three quarters. But he also recovered to put up decent numbers: a passer rating of 88.1 points, 23 of 37 passing for 304 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions, and one sack.
“I liked Matt Flynn,” McCarthy said. “I thought Matt has put together a fine preseason, I thought he did a good job of keeping us in good plays at the line of scrimmage. I thought he missed some throws early in the game, didn’t quite have his feet set. But overall for his three quarters he did a very good job.”
After not picking up a first down until the second quarter, Flynn and offense picked up and scored 10 points with a second-quarter field goal and third-quarter touchdown drive. The big play on the touchdown drive came when the Chiefs had blown coverage leaving receiver Brett Swain with no defender within at least 20 yards. Flynn hit him for a 77-yard gain to Kansas City’s 5. Backup halfback Kregg Lumpkin scored on the next play, which was ruled a touchdown after McCarthy challenged the initial ruling that Lumpkin had been stopped at the 1.
Flynn moved the ball on the two drives in the second quarter but scored only three points. The first series ended at Kansas City’s 5 when McCarthy decided to go for the touchdown on fourth and goal rather than kick a chip-shot field goal. Kansas City sent seven rushers at Flynn, and the quarterback managed a good, quick throw to Swain on an out pattern in the end zone. But Chiefs’ rookie cornerback Javier Arenas knocked the ball out of Swain’s hands as he tried to make the catch.
The second drive came in the last four minutes of the half and included several hurry-up plays in the final two minutes. Flynn overcame a 10-yard holding penalty on left tackle Marshall Newhouse early in the drive and completed six of his first seven passes, including a 29-yarder to receiver Patrick Williams. But after a false-start penalty on receiver Chastin West, the drive ended with two incompletions – he was hit by linebacker Jovan Belcher just before Flynn threw on third-and-13.
KC_Pope 2 pass from Cassel (Succop kick), 2:46. Drive: 10 plays, 62 yards, 4:28. Key Plays: Cassel 19 pass to Charles on 3rd-and-4; Battle 4 run on 3rd-and-1; Cassel 30 pass to Bowe. Kansas City 7, Green Bay 0.
KC_Battle 1 run (Succop kick), 3:46. Drive: 8 plays, 95 yards, 4:32. Key Plays: Gained possession on downs at Kansas City 5; Battle 12 run; Battle 50 run; Croyle 16 pass to Moeaki; J.Williams 10 run. Kansas City 14, Green Bay 0.
GB_FG Crosby 40, :16. Drive: 10 plays, 60 yards, 3:30. Key Plays: Flynn 14 pass to Dillon; Flynn 14 pass to Havner; Flynn 29 pass to P.Williams on 3rd-and-11. Kansas City 14, Green Bay 3.
GB_Lumpkin 1 run (Crosby kick), 10:52. Drive: 4 plays, 82 yards, 1:13. Key Play: Flynn 77 pass to Swain. Kansas City 14, Green Bay 10.
KC_FG Succop 26, 1:32. Drive: 10 plays, 73 yards, 4:20. Key Plays: Gained possession on downs at Kansas City 19; Croyle 7 pass to O'Connell on 3rd-and-3; Croyle 43 pass to Castille. Kansas City 17, Green Bay 10.
GB_FG Crosby 41, 6:12. Drive: 11 plays, 41 yards, 5:51. Key Plays: Lumpkin 2 run on 3rd-and-1; G.Harrell 11 pass to Chery; Lumpkin 11 run. Kansas City 17, Green Bay 13.
|THIRD DOWN EFF||4-15||4-12|
|FOURTH DOWN EFF||0-4||1-1|
|TOTAL NET YARDS||433||322|
|NET YARDS RUSHING||67||145|
|Avg per rush||3.4||4.5|
|NET YARDS PASSING||366||177|
|TOTAL RETURN YARDAGE||92||119|
|TIME OF POSSESSION||33:42||26:18|
RUSHING_Green Bay, Lumpkin 11-36, Kuhn 5-20, Jackson 3-10, Flynn 1-1. Kansas City, Battle 10-67, McCluster 3-37, Jones 5-26, J.Williams 7-22, Castille 2-5, Charles 1-2, Cox 1-1, Croyle 2-(minus 3), Horne 1-(minus 12).
PASSING_Green Bay, Flynn 23-37-0-304, G.Harrell 8-18-0-68. Kansas City, Croyle 11-16-0-119, Cassel 4-9-1-58.
RECEIVING_Green Bay, Swain 6-130, Dillon 6-85, P.Williams 5-70, Quarless 2-20, Chery 2-18, Havner 2-14, Jennings 2-9, Lumpkin 2-9, Johnson 1-7, West 1-7, Kuhn 1-2, D.Lee 1-1. Kansas City, O'Connell 4-36, Tucker 3-16, Charles 2-26, Castille 1-43, Bowe 1-30, Moeaki 1-16, Gunnell 1-4, Lawrence 1-4, Pope 1-2.
PUNT RETURNS_Green Bay, Chery 3-27. Kansas City, Arenas 2-47, Gunnell 1-8.
KICKOFF RETURNS_Green Bay, Chery 3-48, Havner 1-8. Kansas City, McCluster 2-43, J.Williams 1-21.
TACKLES-ASSISTS-SACKS_Green Bay, Simpkins 7-1-0, Shields 5-1-0, Joseph 4-1-0, Wilson 3-1-0, Bush 3-0-0, Havner 3-0-0, Martin 3-0-0, Zombo 3-0-0, Francois 2-1-0, Peprah 2-1-0, Wynn 2-0-0, P.Lee 1-2-0, J.Harrell 1-1-0, Chery 1-0-0, Levine 1-0-0, Lumpkin 1-0-0, Masthay 1-0-0, Crabtree 0-2-0, Jackson 0-1-0, Poppinga 0-1-0, Quarless 0-1-0, Toribio 0-1-0. Kansas City, Price 6-2-0, Walters 5-0-0, Morgan 4-0-0, Washington 4-0-0, Bates 3-2-0, Cole 3-2-0, D.Williams 2-2-1, Herron 2-2-0, Lewis 2-1-0, Dorsey 2-0-0, C.Greenwood 2-0-0, D.Johnson 2-0-0, Lawrence 2-0-0, Smith 2-0-0, M.Richardson 1-2-0, Daniels 1-1-0, Arenas 1-0-0, Battle 1-0-0, Berry 1-0-0, Carr 1-0-0, Castille 1-0-0, Flowers 1-0-0, Gales 1-0-0, Gilberry 1-0-0, Langford 1-0-0, Lokey 1-0-0, Russell 1-0-0, Studebaker 1-0-0, Belcher 0-1-0, Horne 0-1-0, Magee 0-1-0, Mays 0-1-0.
INTERCEPTIONS_Green Bay, Bush 1-9.
MISSED FIELD GOALS_Kansas City, Succop 51 (WL).
OFFICIALS_Referee Ed Hochuli, Ump Chad Brown, HL Mark Hittner, LJ Tom Symonette, FJ Craig Wrolstad, SJ Ronald Torbert, BJ Don Carey, Replay Tom Sifferman.
– The Associated Press