The Packers’ season would be doomed again, of course, if Aaron Rodgers suffered another serious injury, like he did last year, when his broken collarbone resulted in the team missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. But, after Thursday night’s preseason opener, a 31-17 Green Bay win over Tennessee, the team might at least feel a little better about its contingency options behind Rodgers, as all three backup quarterbacks – especially embattled 2017 replacement Brett Hundley – were impressive in live action against the Titans, and a near-sellout crowd left Lambeau Field happy.
Hundley, who has talked in training camp about his efforts to learn from last season by watching game film and improving his footwork, looked like a different player – more confident, composed, decisive and in-rhythm.
"Productive, decision-making was sound and I thought clearly his tempo was the best of the three quarterbacks," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Hundley.
He completed 9 of 14 passes for 108 yards and one touchdown, with an interception that wasn’t really his fault and an 81.9 rating over nearly two quarters. Hundley’s best moment came on the Packers’ first series, when he hit wide receiver Davante Adams down the left sideline for a Rodgers-esque 48-yard completion, which set up a Jamaal Williams touchdown pass two plays later.
"Really, what we wanted to accomplish as a football team was establish our play style, and secondly was just try to create as many opportunities as we possibly could for our players," McCarthy said.
On a beautiful night for football, in the first exhibition game, with a dozen likely starters – including Rodgers – not in uniform, Hundley’s quarterbacking was the main story. But, even though the game doesn’t matter and many of the players on the field won’t be on the roster in a few weeks, there were plenty of other takeaways.
Here are five of them:
1. Something I liked
The other quarterbacks. Hundley wasn’t the only passer that turned heads in Rodgers’ absence. DeShone Kizer, whom the Packers acquired from the Cleveland Browns for Damarious Randall in an offseason trade, looked comfortable and capable in about a quarter’s worth of work. The second-year pro finished 9 of 18 for 134 yards without a touchdown or interception and a 74.8 rating. He flashed his athleticism by picking up yards with his legs (three rushes for 18 yards) and showed a big arm, connecting with rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 51-yard bomb.
With more than five minutes left in the third, Kizer gave way to Tim Boyle, who continued Green Bay’s recent trend of undrafted rookie QBs playing well in their preseason debuts. Boyle, who’s showed promise in practice, completed 7 of 15 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions and a 116.7 rating.
The Packers traded for Kizer because their backup quarterback play wasn’t good enough last year, but Hundley’s prepared to make it a fight, and Boyle won’t back down either. Green Bay seems to be in a much better situation now, with a real competition for the backup job.
2. Something I didn’t like
The tackle depth. Packers fans will shudder to remember that Rodgers got hurt last season on a hard hit after rolling out to his right side when the pocket collapsed. Reliable veteran Bryan Bulaga was playing right tackle when that happened, but a month later he tore the ACL in his right knee and was sidelined for the next nine months. Bulaga has made incredible progress in his recovery and was recently cleared to return to practice, though he didn’t play Thursday and was replaced by Byron Bell.
The eighth-year tackle started in front of presumed second-stringer Jason Spriggs but struggled, beaten badly by Titans rusher Gimel President, who hit Hundley as he threw the ball, leading to his interception. On the other side of the line, with stalwart left tackle David Bakhtiari out due to an ankle injury, backup Kyle Murphy was schooled by Tennessee linebacker Harold Landry, who got to Hundley and forced a fumble the Packers recovered.
Bahktiari and Bulaga both should be ready to go Week 1, but the apparent lack of depth behind them is concerning. It won’t matter who’s quarterback if the protection isn’t there.
3. Something I learned
The rookie receivers aren’t so bad. Earlier this week, Rodgers after practice ripped the Packers’ wide receivers – or, at least, some of them. Mentioning those he was pleased with and by process of elimination, it was clear he meant the trio of rookies, fourth-round draft pick J’Mon Moore, fifth-rounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling and sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown, whom Rodgers felt weren’t adequately preparing themselves.
Thursday night’s professional debut was a mixed bag for the three. The 6-foot-4 Valdes-Scantling stood out, showing off his speed and catching five of seven passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. The 6-5 St. Brown also had an impact, with four receptions on six targets for 61 yards.
But Moore, whose hands were considered a bit of a question mark coming into the NFL, caught just three of seven passes, with a couple of drops, for 27 yards. Jake Kumerow, the 26-year-old wideout from UW-Whitewater, continued to make plays, with three receptions for 76 yards, including a 52-yard score.
4. Something I didn’t learn
The new defense. After their disastrous 2017, the Packers fired Dom Capers and hired Mike Pettine as their new defensive coordinator. Known for his intense personality and aggressive scheme, Pettine was expected to change the attitude and performance of Green Bay’s subpar defense. But, on Thursday night, Pettine didn’t show much.
The Packers had seven potential starters sitting out and rarely blitzed the Titans, registering just one sack (Kyler Fackrell) and one takeaway (Vince Biegel fumble recovery). Against Tennessee’s No. 1 offense, Green Bay gave up an efficient 71-yard touchdown drive on the opening series, but looked stronger as the game went on.
The Packers allowed just 302 total yards, including only 79 on the ground, but it’s difficult to evaluate Pettine’s new system from such a game.
5. Something I’m looking forward to
The backfield composition. The Packers seem to be taking a running-back-by-committee approach, with Williams the workhorse starter, Aaron Jones the change-of-pace guy and converted receiver Ty Montgomery the versatile pass-catcher.
On Thursday night, though, a couple lesser-known runners got most of the snaps, and nobody really did much of anything on the ground. Joel Bouagnon rushed 11 times for 25 yards, including a seven-yard long and a one-yard touchdown. Akeem Judd had six carries for 19 yards, including an 11-yard gain and then mostly nothing. Williams and Montgomery combined for eight carries of 25 yards. Jones, who didn’t play because of injury, is suspended for the first two games of the season, so there’s an opening – at least temporarily – for another back to make the final roster.
Against the Titans, it was a quarterbacks’ night, and none of the runners really took a significant step forward, but we’ve got three more games to see how the backfield shakes out.
Next Thursday, the Packers host the Pittsburgh Steelers at 7 p.m. at Lambeau Field.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.