Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Graham offer 'fun' preview in Packers' 51-34 romp over Steelers
GREEN BAY — The fabled wall behind Lambeau Field’s end zone had no chance.
Not every Green Bay Packers player has scaled it with ease over the years. Every now and then, a player can have trouble making the storied leap. Tight end Jimmy Graham sized it up in the first quarter Thursday. He’d just unveiled his trademark, a leaping touchdown spike after catching a pass for Aaron Rodgers. Now, it was time for his first Lambeau Leap.
The wall had no chance. Not against the 6-foot-7 Graham. He didn’t just make it to the top. Graham got his left leg over the edge, practically sitting in the stands as he posed for the cameras.
Spiderman would’ve been proud.
“That’s because he’s big, though,” running back Jamaal Williams said, almost sounding unimpressed. “It was just like sitting on a porch for him.”
Indeed, Graham is big. And plenty fast, he’s shown. But most important, perhaps, is how the veteran tight end uses his physical traits.
BOX SCORE: Packers 51, Steelers 34
It was Graham’s crisp route running that helped him get so wide open at the end of the Packers' first drive in what became a 51-34 rout of Pittsburgh. Matched against Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds, Graham turned his shoulders to the perimeter like he was running a corner fade. Edmunds had inside leverage, but just as he gathered steam to win a foot race to the corner, Graham stutter-stepped and cut inside.
"Open-heart surgery," receiver Davante Adams called it on Twitter.
It was a dizzying route for Edmunds to cover, leaving him in Graham’s dust. Rodgers scooted a few steps to his left to avoid pressure, then made the easy, 8-yard touchdown pass to the tight end who’s quickly becoming a favorite target. It surely won’t be the only time this season Graham, who had 10 touchdowns a year ago, leaps into the home stands.
But, Rodgers emphasized, his new tight end is much more than a red-zone threat.
“He can do it all over the field,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think he was used a ton in the past couple of years in the middle of the field, but he’s an incredible athlete. He’s got a wide, wide catch radius, and there’s a lot of things he can do. It’s exciting to be able to have a guy like that.”
It was the first time Graham and Rodgers have been able to show the chemistry that’s been evident since the Pro Bowl tight end arrived this spring. Earlier this week, Graham had perhaps his most impressive catch of the offseason, a one-handed, back-shoulder touchdown from Rodgers in a red-zone drill.
A few more people — an announced, paid attendance of 74,434 — witnessed this touchdown.
“That was fun,” coach Mike McCarthy told the team’s television broadcast at halftime. “Those two have been having a great camp. You can really see it all week, and that’s really what we were looking for — trying to get Jimmy a couple throws.”
The touchdown highlighted a wild start to the Packers' second exhibition.
In the first five minutes and four seconds, the Packers and Steelers combined for four touchdowns. The Packers took a 14-0 lead with 11:53 left in the first quarter. The Steelers tied it with a pair of touchdowns separated by 46 seconds, thanks to Packers running back Ty Montgomery’s fumbled kickoff return.
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Rodgers’ lone drive started at the Steelers’ 40-yard line, a short field set up by Steelers punter Jordy Berry’s 30-yard shank. The two-time MVP quarterback, playing at home for the first time since Week 4 of last season, finished 2-for-4 for 35 yards and a 119.8 rating. He was hit on his first snap by linebacker Vince Williams and avoided pressure a couple other times, including a 5-yard scramble when he ducked under one Steelers rusher.
“I thought Aaron did a heck of a job the little time he was in there,” McCarthy said.
Other than the touchdown, the big play of the opening drive was Rodgers’ 27-yard pass to Adams. Starting from the right slot, Adams got open with a shallow post and ran away from Steelers cornerback Coty Sensabaugh.
In limited preseason snaps, Adams has shown why the Packers were content to make him their undisputed top receiver late last season, signing him to a four-year, $58 million extension before releasing Jordy Nelson in the spring. Adams had a 48-yard reception in the Packers preseason debut, beating Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler on a deep route.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga and left guard Lane Taylor did not dress, but left tackle David Bakhtiari made his preseason debut. Bakhtiari played a pair of possessions, staying on the field after Rodgers left.
“Felt really good,” Bakhtiari said. “Old 12 looks like himself. Good job by the offense. I’m excited.”
There wasn’t much dropoff on offense after Rodgers departed. Quarterback Brett Hundley was the second quarterback off the Packers' sideline, finishing 6-for-9 for 77 yards and a 93.3 rating. Hundley added a pair of runs for 12 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown when he broke one tackle in the backfield and reversed field to his left.
DeShone Kizer replaced Hundley midway through the second quarter. He finished 7-for-12 for 149 yards with two touchdowns and a 142 rating. His big play was an 82-yard touchdown to receiver Jake Kumerow, who caught an out route to the left and made Steelers safety Nat Berhe miss in the open field before somersaulting into the end zone.
For Kumerow, who has had a splendid camp, the play might’ve been enough to finally clinch a spot on the Packers' 53-man roster. Rodgers has been a boisterous advocate of Kumerow throughout August. But his somersault might’ve been costly. Kumerow left the game with a right shoulder injury.
“Just fell on the shoulder,” Kumerow said, “and got a little stinger.”
As good as the Packers' backup offense looked, its starters showed flashes of what could be a special group. It took only six plays, but their short-field touchdown drive showed a unit that’s ready for the regular season. Perhaps it was enough to end Rodgers’ preseason on the spot.
Either way, Williams said he’s excited for what the fall might bring.
“It’s going to be real explosive,” he said. “Honestly, I just feel like this offense is going to be great this year.”