Healthy Packers ready for regular season
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Almost nothing was risked and, as a result, little was gained.
Blowing off another exhibition finale for the sake of safety, the Green Bay Packers departed Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night with an encouraging injury report for the regular-season opener nine days away in Jacksonville.
Coach Mike McCarthy played only four starters – inside linebackers Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington, cornerback Damarious Randall and fullback Aaron Ripkowski – in a 17-7 defeat against the Kansas City Chiefs.
A total of 20 Packers were scratched before the game, just 10 because of injury.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid did one better, withholding all 22 of his starters. Only three sat due to injury.
That’s the way it was on a balmy night before maybe 25,000 fans at 76,416-seat Arrowhead.
“Just very pleased with the quality work our football team was able to accomplish tonight and throughout the preseason,” McCarthy said. “The preseason games were excellent as far as what we were trying to accomplish.”
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Unlike 2013, when tackle Bryan Bulaga blew out his knee in an intrasquad scrimmage, or ’14, when nose tackle B.J. Raji suffered a season-ending biceps tear in the third exhibition game, these Packers tight-roped their way past a catastrophic injury in a training camp extended four days by the Hall of Fame event.
The Packers will be monitoring wide receiver Jordy Nelson (knee), safety Morgan Burnett (back) and nose tackle Kenny Clark (back), but it’s entirely possible all three will be available for the opener.
“Nothing terrible,” Bulaga said early in the week of the injury list. “I’d say your basic bumps and nicks from training camp. Coach has given us the proper time to recover.”
The Packers will take the weekend to meet Saturday’s 3 p.m. deadline for removing 22 players from the roster to meet the 53-man limit and establishing a 10-man practice squad Sunday. Then the Packers will begin heavy preparations for what they hope will be their first championship in six years.
“Let’s see,” Randall said during the week. “In 2014, we lost to Seattle and we were up, 16-0. In 2015, I blew the playoff game (against Arizona). Yeah, we are a championship-contending team.
“We’re the Green Bay Packers. We’ve got Aaron Rodgers and a great, great offense. We’ve got a tremendous defense.
“There ain’t no way to sugar-coat, ain’t no way to look backwards or around it. I mean, Super Bowl or bust.
”It’s understood. It don’t have to be said. We know how good we are.”
BOX SCORE: Chiefs 17, Packers 7
Green Bay and New England are the NFL co-favorites at 7-1, according to footballlocks.com, and Seattle is third at 8-1.
One of the many personnel men in attendance at Arrowhead said the Packers, “without hesitation,” were among his five favorites to win the 51st Super Bowl in Houston. His leading contenders are Green Bay, Seattle and Carolina in the NFC, and New England in the AFC.
“They get the wide receiver (Nelson) back, if 27 (Eddie Lacy) is back and healthy and serious, their offense is as good as anybody’s in the league,” the scout said. “On defense, they have some of the best coaches in the league.”
Rodgers will enter his 12th regular season with his fewest appearances (one), fewest pass attempts (nine) and fewest snaps (26) in the summer game. Nelson will line up in Jacksonville without having played a down since Aug. 23 a year ago.
Other exhibition snap counts on offense were 33 for James Starks, 34 for Lacy, 38 for Randall Cobb and 59 for the five starting offensive linemen.
Almost to a man, the Packers say their high-tempo “thud” practices are more than enough to provide a fast start and Super Bowl return.
Is it time for the Packers to win their 14th title?
“(Expletive), yeah,” said guard Josh Sitton. “It’s been time for a while. I think we’re good enough to win a title every year.
“We’re very talented, and we have been for a while. The guys upstairs have done a nice job getting players in here who can play. Same thing (on defense). They’ve got a lot of talent, lot of depth.”
It’s too early, according to Sitton, to know what might differentiate this squad from the previous eight he has played on. Talent, injuries and coaching separate teams, he said.
“In this league today the quarterback is obviously the person driving the bus,” he said. “We’ve got one of the best ever. You’re always going to have a chance when you have that guy.”
As with the offense, the No. 1 defense played so sparingly in exhibition games that it wasn’t possible to evaluate.
Randall, however, made it clear that anyone still thinking the defense in Green Bay needs to play a complementary role would soon be of a different mind.
“Oakland played their starters the first half and they had 90 total yards offensively (actually 73),” said Randall. “The 49ers had been putting up points and yardage on everybody and what’d they have? 90 yards (actually 94, in the first half)?
"I think we’re pretty good. As long as we execute and continue pursuing the football, we’re going to be a very, very hard team to score on.”
Outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers played in the third game only, with Matthews taking nine snaps and Peppers getting eight.
Elsewhere on defense, the snap totals were 14 for Letroy Guion, 29 for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 30 for Sam Shields and 33 for Mike Daniels. Burnett never took a snap.
“The fans are just starting to figure out how good this defense is,” Randall said. “In the past the Packers weren’t that strong on defense. Now I feel that’s a strong point.
“Every time the ball’s in the air we expect to come down with it. This year we’ve got no new guys in the secondary. We should be stouter in the back end and we should win a lot of games because of it.”
One of the few newcomers expected to play a major role is tight end Jared Cook.
“He’s a first-down machine it looks like,” said Randall. “He’s a matchup problem. He’s 6-5 and he can move like a receiver.”
As for the return by Nelson, Randall said, “Guys are going to have to respect the deep ball this year. I think Lacy will have a great year. The offensive line will be healthier and having Jordy will keep the safeties out of the box. That should open up the middle for Cobb, too.”
Bulaga and Sitton are two of the seven players that were instrumental in the Super Bowl run in 2010.
“I’m not going to make any predictions but I know we’ve got a lot of the pieces to have a really good team,” Bulaga said. “We have a lot of really, really good players on this team, and there’s a good influx of young guys that have shown up in camp.”
The only apparent injury in the finale was suffered by wide receiver Trevor Davis (shoulder).
In another development, new punter Jacob Schum got off to a solid start, with the second of his four boots having 5.04 seconds of hang time.
“He punted well in practice yesterday and he continued that tonight,” McCarthy said. “Most impressive, the ball placement outside the numbers was what we were looking for.”
All of what happened Thursday night and the first three games will be forgotten within 24 to 48 hours. Exhibition games have been decreed a necessary evil, and the Packers seem to have made the best of them.
There also was historical value in failing to finish undefeated. The last 4-0 exhibition season in Green Bay was 1999, and that regular season was just a few hours over when first-year coach Ray Rhodes was fired.