The Green Bay Packers looked more like a Super Bowl contender than they did in losing their first two preseason games.
Aaron Rodgers ran for two touchdowns in the first quarter and Jamari Lattimore’s late pick-six capped a 27-13 victory at Cincinnati against the Bengals on Thursday night.
Making his Packers debut in his old stomping grounds, Cedric Benson made an immediate impact. He carried six times for 38 yards and caught one pass for 10 yards. Benson’s presence opened up things in the passing game. During his first possession, a fake to Benson freed up Jordy Nelson for a potential 57-yard touchdown pass, but Rodgers’ pass was a bit off-target and the pass fell incomplete. On the next play, a fake to Benson turned into a 19-yard completion to Greg Jennings, which jump-started a touchdown drive that Rodgers capped with a 12-yard scoring run.
“Ced was great,” Rodgers said.
On the next possession, Benson had runs of 8 and 9 yards sandwiching Rodgers’ 22-yard strike to Tom Crabtree. Rodgers rushed for 11 yards to the 4 and, one play later, 5 yards for the touchdown.
Rodgers was the game's leading rusher with 52 yards on six attempts.
''We couldn't keep the quarterback from extending drives and scoring,'' Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. ''We didn't do a good job of recognizing a mobile quarterback and getting him down and strapping him to the ground.''
Green Bay’s defense was outstanding. The Packers forced five three-and-out series, limited Cincinnati to nine first downs and 195 yards, and recorded three turnovers in the fourth quarter. Maybe more importantly, the defense stiffened after Rodgers threw an interception on the fourth play of the second quarter. The Bengals took over at Green Bay’s 25-yard line and wound up with a first-and-goal at the 1. After a first-down incompletion and a second-down run lost 2 yards, Erik Walden stormed in untouched for a third-down sack to hold the Bengals to a field goal.
“I thought the defense and really the whole team had a lot of bounce, a lot of juice today throughout the whole football game,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “So, the pressure on defense was very good, our guys covered down when we were in pressure situations, they did very good with three-man rush and still starting to apply pressure to the quarterback and I thought we played smart. I was very pleased with the defense. The young guys in the second half with the turnovers, I mean, that’s huge.”
Rodgers finished 12-of-22 for 154 yards. Graham Harrell had another rough outing, going 5-of-12 for 26 yards and was sacked three times. His first five possessions ended in four punts and a fumble. The sixth possession resulted in a field goal, set up by Sam Shields’ interception.
The Packers were extremely short-handed at tight end, with a lot of the offense going “out the window” as a result, according to McCarthy. Jermichael Finley went back to Green Bay as he and his wife had a son and Crabtree was lost after taking a big hit on his big catch. D.J. Williams (ankle), DeMarco Cosby (hamstring) and Andrew Quarless (knee; PUP list) did not play.
“Winning? Winning’s fun,” McCarthy said. “I’ve never had a problem with winning. But the bigger objective is the evaluation of our team. So we come out here to win, we always come out to win, that’s the biggest part of playing the game, don’t get me wrong. But preseason is different. There’s a lot of conversation throughout the game about play-time and making sure players get enough opportunities and different combinations and things you don’t go through in a normal game.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.