After losing Jordy Nelson and getting a scare with Randall Cobb, the Green Bay Packers were hoping to dodge further injuries while getting a last look at roster candidates in their preseason finale Thursday against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field.
The Packers rested most of their starters in their 38-10 win over the Saints before a crowd of 73,863, as is customary in the preseason finale as NFL teams get one final chance to evaluate bottom-of-the-roster players.
Scott Tolzien, who missed last week’s game against Philadelphia because of a concussion, got the start at quarterback in preparation for his role as primary backup to Aaron Rodgers. But it was rookie Brett Hundley who again impressed, completing 16 of 23 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns, and a passer rating of 142.4.
The Tolzien-led offense struggled. After the Packers went three-and-out on their first two series, Tolzien was intercepted by Saints cornerback Kyle Wilson at the New Orleans 9 to short-circuit a 10-play, 68-yard drive. Hundley replaced Tolzien (7 of 11 passes for 41 yards and an interception, for a passer rating of 32.8) on the next series.
Hundley sparkled in the second quarter, capping a seven-play, 56-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Janis that pulled the Packers into a 10-10 tie just before halftime. Hundley kept the drive alive with a 13-yard scramble.
Hundley helped get the Packers on the board in his first series, directing a nine-play, 27-yard drive that resulted in a 54-yard Mason Crosby field goal with 5:02 left in the second quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Hundley connected with Myles White for two fourth-and-goal touchdown passes to boost the Packers’ lead to 31-10.
Hundley was fresh off an impressive performance against the Eagles (22-of-31, 315 yards, two touchdowns) that likely earned him a roster berth behind Rodgers and Tolzien. Matt Blanchard, another backup quarterback candidate, was released Tuesday.
The Packers must reduce their roster from 75 players to 53 by 3 p.m. CT on Saturday. However, season-opening suspensions to defensive ends Letroy Guion (three games) and Datone Jones (one game) temporarily will leave the team with two extra spots.
At wide receiver, White showed why he had the inside track for the No. 5 spot behind Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery and Janis. In addition to his two TD catches, White also hauled in a Hundley pass for a 36-yard gain in the fourth quarter.
Jared Abbrederis faced an uphill climb, returning to practice this week after an ACL tear in 2014 and a concussion on the first day of training camp this season
White, Janis, Abbrederis and undrafted rookie Larry Pinkard got opportunities to Saturday with Adams sitting out and Cobb and Montgomery inactive due to injury. It’s a pivotal position given the loss of Nelson for the season to a torn right anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the second preseason game at Pittsburgh. Cobb sustained a sprained right shoulder in last Saturday’s 39-26 loss to Philadelphia, but said he plans to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 13 at Chicago.
Pinkard took a third-quarter pass from Hundley and split the Saints defense on a 77-yard scamper to the end zone to give the Packers a 17-10 lead. Later in the quarter, Pinkard was shaken up on a pass attempt over the middle. He was helped off the field and escorted to the locker room.
Janis had two catches for 21 yards and a TD. Abbrederis had one catch for six yards, but kept busy on punt returns. He sidestepped tacklers on a 17-yard punt return and followed that with a 10-yard return on the Saints’ next punt. Janis fumbled the next Saints punt, but the play was erased by a New Orleans penalty.
Rajion Neal further solidified his hold on the third halfback role over fellow undrafted rookie Alonzo Harris and John Crockett. Neal had taken a major step forward against the Eagles, catching five passes for 61 yards (including a 36-yard TD reception) and rushing for 23 yards on four carries.
Neal followed that up with a strong first half against the Saints, carrying five times for 20 yards and catching four passes for 20 more. He sat out the second half.
Crockett also delivered, carrying eight times for 42 yards — including a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that made it 38-10 — and catching four passes for 49 yards.
One notable position battle is at tight end, where rookie sixth-round pick Kennard Backman, second-year man Justin Perillo and undrafted rookies Mitchell Henry are vying for the No. 3 spot behind Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless. None of the three distinguished themselves in the first half, but Backman caught a 20-yard pass in the fourth quarter.
Backman had taken a step forward by catching a four-yard touchdown pass against the Eagles. Perillo was sidelined for two weeks after getting a concussion in the preseason opener at New England. Henry this week finally shed the cast that was protecting a broken middle finger on his left hand.
Other players looking to lock down roster berths against the Saints included safeties Chris Banjo and Sean Richardson, outside linebackers Andy Mulumba and Jayrone Elliott, inside linebackers Nate Palmer and Jake Ryan and defensive end Khyri Thornton.
Banjo intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and deflected a third-quarter pass that was picked off by Tay Glover-Wright.
After making their final cuts Saturday, the Packers will begin putting together their 10-man practice squad Sunday. One week later, they will open the 2015 season against the Bears at noon at Soldier Field.