Tolzien makes best of sloppy preseason opener for Packers

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien (16) scrambles away from Tennessee Titans defenders Akeem Ayers (56) and Karl Klug (97) in the third quarter of a preseason NFL football game Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Heavy rains at LP Field made a mess out of the Green Bay Packers' preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans Saturday night, but Scott Tolzien managed to gain traction in the team's backup quarterback competition regardless.

With Aaron Rodgers getting the night off, the keys to the Packers' offense were turned over to Matt Flynn and Tolzien, and it was the former Wisconsin standout who got the upper hand in a 20-16 loss to the Titans.

Starting in place of Rodgers, Flynn had the more difficult assignment against the Titans starters. Already without Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy, who also didn't play, Flynn spent his four series wading through frequent downpours en route to a 64.9 quarterback rating on 5-of-10 passing for 49 yards.

Tolzien had more success once the rain dissipated in the second half. He drove the Packers' offense into Titans' territory in each of his three series, including a seven-play, 79-yard touchdown drive off the no-huddle after halftime.

Tolzien fumbled on a scramble early in the series but recovered it and then hit receiver Chris Harper for a 38-yard gain on the next play, a second-and-21. He finished with a 109.7 quarterback rating on 8-of-12 for 124 yards.

"I thought he did a lot of good things," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought the no-huddle really flourished in Scott's two series. To have the fumble, and then make the play … and hit the second-and-20 play to get us down there in the red zone, I thought Scott did a lot of good things"

The Packers' offense got off to a promising start as Flynn steered the starting unit on an eight-play, 64-yard drive in no-huddle to start the game. Running back James Starks (six carries for 49 yards) did most of the heavy lifting, with his 20-yard touchdown capping his only series of the night.

The offense struggled to move the ball once Starks and the veterans on the line exited. Flynn was 4-of-9 for 39 yards on the Packers' next four drives, while the closest the offense came to the end zone was the Tennessee 42 yard line.

Titans quarterback Jake Locker didn't fare much better in the messy conditions, completing only one pass. He left the game after Shonn Greene's 14-yard touchdown, which was set up by a muffed punt return by Packers rookie receiver Davante Adams.

Flynn started to build some momentum on his third series, with tight end Brandon Bostick turning a short pass in the flat into a 23-yard gain, but an offensive pass interference penalty against Jarrett Boykin on the ensuing play stifled the momentum.

The drive quickly stalled and Flynn's night was over.

"I struggled getting a grip on the ball a little bit," Flynn said. "Taking positives out of it, I felt like I made good decisions and went to the right place with the ball. The ball was pretty rough out there, but there's not much else that can be done. You try to keep them dry, but then you come out there and it's raining so hard. It is what it is. It's preseason No. 1."

As the rain began to taper off, Tolzien continued to show the signs of progress McCarthy has hinted at recently. He took over with 36 seconds left in the first half and went 2-of-4 for 25 yards with a 10-yard scramble. His two incompletions were dropped passes by tight end Andrew Quarless and running back Michael Hill.

Tolzien kept it going after the break and led the offense down the field for its most successful drive of the night. While it was undrafted running back Rajion Neal's 12-yard touchdown that closed the 79-yard drive, a pair of downfield strikes from Tolzien to Chris Harper totaling 51 yards set the table.

Tolzien also showed nice touch on a dropped pass by Harper on the two-point conversion. He drove the Packers' offense down to the Tennessee 33 on his next possession, only to have Harper drop an open pass on fourth-and-2.

Coming off an encouraging performance at last Saturday's Family Night practice, it was a step in the right direction for Tolzien.

"It's a start, but it's nothing more than a start," Tolzien said. "It's up to us as a team to continue to improve and that's what this time is for is to get ready for the regular season."

McCarthy sat Rodgers because he wanted to get a look at rookie quarterback Chase Rettig, who was sent into a tie game with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.

Rettig didn't move the ball on his first two series, but an interception by linebacker Korey Jones set up the Packers to take a 16-13 lead off a Mason Crosby 32-yard field goal with 7:02 remaining.

When the Titans responded with a five-play, 80-yard drive capped by a seven-yard Jackie Battle touchdown, Rettig drove the offense back down to the Tennessee 24, but his fourth-and-short shot at end zone fell incomplete to end the game.

The Packers' 294 yards of total offense and 19 first downs were a vast improvement over last year's preseason opener against Arizona, when Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman and Vince Young struggled to move the offense in a 17-0 loss.

Rodgers likely will be back next week when the Packers take on the St. Louis, but the Packers should get a cleaner look at both Flynn and Tolzien inside the Edward Jones Dome.

"Physically, it's just one of those weird games that you can't really go back and critique mechanics or receivers can't really critique their routes too much because it was a sloppy game," Flynn said. "Next week, we're in the dome, so hopefully we'll be able to execute a little better." and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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