Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pack picks up first preseason win

The Packers beat the Broncos last evening in Denver, 27-24. While it was only a preseason game, players and coaches alike all said it was basically a must-win game, especially after the fall-on-your-face performance at San Fran last weekend. And because the final preseason game will not have the starters playing very long. So, this was basically the starters chance to perform.

The Packers' first team offense, led by QB Aaron Rodgers, came out clicking and scored a TD on an opening 80-yard drive. Rodgers was 4 out of 5 passing, for 69 yards and a TD pass to Donald Driver. His passes looked sharp, and he also looked comfortable rolling out of the pocket and throwing. Playing into the third quarter, Rodgers was 18 for 22, 193 yards, 1 TD passing and 1 TD rushing on a goal line QB sneak. (He had a passer rating of 118.4 for the stat geeks out there.)

Basically, Rodgers and the first team offense were pretty much everything they weren't against the 'Niners. The Pack scored in four out of five possessions under Rodgers, gaining 217 yards and picking up 15 first downs. This was what we were waiting to see.

The game was in doubt, though, until about the last 3 minutes of the game when rookie free agent RB -- and someone who is starting to catch attention -- Kregg Lumpkin took it in for the go-ahead score on fourth down from the 1-yard line. This followed a turnover by the Broncos at their own 10-yard line when DE Jason Hunter hit QB Patrick Ramsey just as he was attempting a pass; his pass was knocked into the air and LB Tracy White was waiting with open arms for the interception.

For as good as the starting offense looked, the same could not be said for the starting defense. In particular, Denver's running game gashed the Pack time after time for 91 yards rushing (a 6.1 yd. per carry average) and 206 total yards. And that was just in the first half. There was also no pass rush to speak of. Again. Like in the prior two games. No sacks and only two knockdowns coming from Aaron Kampman. Granted, the defense was without LB A.J. Hawk. But...c'mon...

Injuries mounting up
In addition to Hawk being out with a chest injury suffered in the last game -- and reportedly not even being day to day but week to week -- several players got injured in last night's game. Rookie RG Josh Sitton and safeties Nick Collins and Atari Bigby were all injured in the first half and didn't return to the game. WR James Jones injured his right knee in the second half and also didn't return, although he didn't seem to be bothered by it later on judging by his sideline behavior.

In addition to these in-game injuries, eight Packers didn't even make the trip: the aforementioned A.J. Hawk, RB Ryan Grant, C Scott Wells, DT Ryan Pickett, S Charlie Peprah, RB DeShawn Wynn, DT Justin Harrell (yeah, shocking, isn't it?) and DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. As reports note, Grant, Harrell, Pickett and Gbaja-Biamila have not played a down during the exhibition season.

"A Few Seconds of Panic"
No, this is not what you may feel when asked by your doctor to...well, OK, that is what you feel when your doctor asks you to do...anything. But that's beside the point. In this case, the reference is actually the title to a new book by sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Subtitled “A 5-Foot-8, 170-Pound, 43-Year-old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL," the book chronicles Fatsis' experience as part of the Denver Broncos training camp where he worked out and practiced with the kickers. The NFL, however, wouldn't even let him kick an extra point in an exhibition game. Still, he came away learning a lot about the game and especially how the players view their chosen profession.

Fatsis was interviewed in this week's broadcast of "Only a Game" on NPR. You can read a brief book review here. If you want to listen to the on-air interview, go here and then scroll down to the bottom of the page where you can click on the player for that segment. It's worth a listen.