Brett Hundley shows command in imperfect Packers preseason opener
GREEN BAY - With a shoulder shimmy midway through the second quarter of Thursday night’s preseason opener, quarterback Brett Hundley showed the kind of “generalship” the Green Bay Packers wanted to see from their backup.
Gifted a short field, Hundley found receiver Jeff Janis open for a 20-yard touchdown with more than 8 minutes left in the first half. Hundley’s subtle but effective shoulder shake enticed Eagles cornerback C.J. Smith to bite on the double move, allowing Janis to sneak past.
From there, the touch throw to the right corner of the end zone was easy.
The score was part of 17 unanswered points in the first half, leading the Packers to a 24-9 win. It showed command the Packers wanted from their third-year backup. It’s a pump fake Hundley said he’s worked tirelessly to perfect. The difficulty, he said, is not overselling the underneath slant with a fake so the safety stays in the middle of the field.
“If you just stare down that slant,” Hundley said, “that safety is going to run over the top. So you’ve got to sell the slant, look back off for the safety and then come back to it. So it’s a lot of practice that people wouldn’t realize go into that one play, but we executed it today.
“It felt amazing. I’m telling you, you can’t beat that. It’s like eating cake. You just can’t get enough.”
BOX SCORE:Packers 24, Eagles 9
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DOUGHERTY:Kevin King takes lumps but flashes ability
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Hundley has played few competitive snaps since his rookie season. A sprained ankle wiped out his preseason showcase last August. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers watching from the sideline, Hundley played the entire first half Thursday.
It was an imperfect debut, but Hundley overcame a barrage of sloppy play from the Packers offense to post a solid start. He completed only 8-of-15 passes for 90 yards, but those numbers were deceiving. Four of Hundley’s incompletions were dropped.
Twice in the second quarter, Hundley threw strikes to complete third-down slants: one to tight end Martellus Bennett for 13 yards, and another to Geronimo Allison for 10.
Hundley’s touchdown wasn’t the only time he showed poise. One of his best plays was a 4-yard run in the second quarter. With the Packers in field-goal range on third down, Hundley shed Eagles linebacker Chris Long’s sack after he came unblocked on a blitz.
Instead of risking a turnover, Hundley calmly kept the football and set up Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field goal for a 17-6 lead. Considering how few times he’s been hit in the past two years, Hundley said that play showed he still had the composure to avoid mistakes in pressure situations, and the athleticism to evade defenders.
“Especially Chris Long,” Hundley said of the linebacker with 58½ career sacks. “It felt really good for me, because I didn’t play in last year’s preseason, so I haven’t been hit in two years. So for me to still have that twitch of, like, all right, I get tapped, I’m going down, and I can still get out of things and make things happen. It felt really good. After two years sort of out, and to sort of get back into it, you want to see that that’s still there. For me, it felt really good.”
Hundley’s one poor decision came with 1:04 left in the first half. The Packers had possession at their 37-yard line, trying to score before halftime. On their first play, Hundley failed to see Mychal Kendricks over the middle of the field, throwing directly to the Eagles linebacker.
Kendricks returned the interception 6 yards to the Packers’ 36. It was the kind of mistake that should’ve cost the Packers points, but Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis hit the right upright on a 46-yard field goal attempt as the first half expired.
Hundley said he was targeting Allison on the play, but he collided with an Eagles defender while running his route.
“I thought Brett got some good snaps,” coach Mike McCarthy said at halftime. “We had a rough start there. I think both teams are obviously struggling handling the ball a little bit tonight — first time out, a little slick. That’s what we talked about at halftime. We have to take care of the football, and we have to take it away.”
Third-string quarterback Joe Callahan entered in the third quarter and completed 10-of-16 passes for 103 yards and a 81 passer rating. Undrafted rookie quarterback Taysom Hill entered with 6:06 left in the game.
Even with Hundley’s one blemish, his was one of the cleaner debuts Thursday night. The Packers struggled with sloppiness in all three phases, unsurprising for a preseason opener.
Running back Ty Montgomery fumbled his second touch of the exhibition, giving the Eagles possession at the Packers’ 27-yard line. Receivers Davante Adams, Trevor Davis, Allison and Janis dropped passes from Hundley in the first half. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was called for a false start when the Packers were lined up to attempt a fourth-and-1 from their 29-yard line to open the game, and the 5-yard penalty persuaded coach Mike McCarthy to punt.
That punt from Justin Vogel was a mishit that traveled only 39 yards and had an unofficial hang time of 3.52 seconds. In the second quarter, Mason Crosby’s kickoff trickled out of bounds.
It wasn’t all bad for the Packers special teams. Receiver Trevor Davis might have secured the starting punt return job. Davis, flashing his 4.4-second speed, returned his first punt return 68 yards for a touchdown. His second punt return was 26 yards.
"You could see Trevor,” McCarthy said, “he was coming on last year. Very natural in the punt return. I thought our guys did a great job creating a wall for him. It was well blocked and an excellent return."
The Packers defense also played fast but was often unable to finish plays. At least a half dozen missed tackles marred the first half.
One miss came from outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who was unblocked on a stunt in the first quarter. Matthews had a clean shot at Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz on third-and-13, but slid off Wentz’s back. Wentz, the Eagles' ascending second-year starter, found receiver Mack Hollins over the middle for a 38-yard touchdown.
The Packers weren’t alone in their miscues. With three turnovers, the Eagles also looked like a team playing its first preseason exhibition.
Cornerback LaDarius Gunter lowered his shoulder into Eagles tight end Trey Burton, forcing a fumble Gunter recovered. The turnover set up Hundley’s touchdown to Janis.
Later in the second quarter, it was Eagles quarterback Matt McGloin’s turn to not read a linebacker underneath. His pass sailed directly to Packers linebacker Joe Thomas, who returned it 17 yards.
The Eagles third turnover came when Packers rookie cornerback Kevin King stood up tight end Billy Brown long enough for linebacker Blake Martinez to arrive, forcing a fumble defensive tackle Christian Ringo recovered.
Early in the fourth quarter, rookie receiver Malachi Dupre was down on the field several minutes after taking a hellacious, unpenalized hit from Eagles safety Tre Sullivan. With both teams on a knee, Lambeau Field fell silent while Dupre’s mask was removed from his helmet. With movement in both arms, Dupre received a cheer from the crowd when he offered a thumbs up before disappearing into the tunnel.
Cornerback Damarious Randall left the first half with a concussion. Safety Kentrell Brice and backup center Don Barclay also left the game with injuries.
Along with Rodgers, receiver Jordy Nelson was a healthy scratch. Cornerback Davon House (hamstring) and tight end Richard Rodgers (finger) also did not dress.
“For me,” Hundley said, “not playing last year in the preseason, just to get my feet wet back out there again, it was awesome for myself personally to get out there and feel what it’s like to get hit again. Even though I don’t want to take hits, to get that off your shoulder feels good. For the offense, and I think for all of us, just to keep building off what we did today and just to be consistent with what we did with the ball.”