Two injuries to starters cast a shadow over any Packer progress. The most serious was Marco Rivera's left MCL injury, which will be re-evaluated Sunday. Safety Darren Sharper suffered a groin injury in the first half and was unable to return.
The Packers first-string defense yielded just three points, despite being put in precarious positions. Green Bay had a flurry of turnovers in the early going, on Brett Favre's first two interceptions of the preseason and William Henderson's fumble on the first play.
"(The defense) had to deal with three first half turnovers, and I'm really pleased with how they responded," Head coach Mike Sherman said in a post-game broadcast interview.
Gilbert Brown put an exclamation point on his surprising return from a biceps injury. He stuffed Stephen Davis during the Packers' outstanding first-series goal line stand and capped the effort with his famed "gravedigger" dance for the record crowd of 69,831.
Brown played most of the first quarter. He decided against a cortisone shot or protecteive brace because he wanted to be able to fully test the muscle.
Brown's return was part of a good-news night for the defense. Most of the starters played into the third quarter. Green Bay led 7-3 when the starters exited, thanks in large part to a four consecutive stops of running back Stephen Davis after Carolina had first-and-goal from inside the 1 yard line. Cornerback Al Harris also helped preserve the lead with an interception of Rodney Peete.
After a scoreless first quarter, Green Bay's offense got into synch. Ahman Green had 77 yards on 12 carries including a 45-yard breakaway for a touchdown. His TD gave Green Bay a 7-3 lead and marked the end of the action for most of the starters. Favre finished 18-of-29 for 116 yards. Robert Ferguson led receivers with 2 catches for 15 yards.
"They did a good job for the most part against a strong defense," Sherman said.
A John Kasay field goal was all the Carolina starters could eke out of Green Bay's trio of turnovers, but later the Panthers pounced on a slew of miscues by the backups to seal their win. Backup QB Chris Weinke and receiver Walter Young connected five times for 88 yards, including an 11-yard go-ahead touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Green Bay's second and third teamers didn't fare as well. In the battle of the backup QBs, Akili Smith hurt his cause with a dismal 1-for-7 performance which ended when William Hampton ran an interception back 30 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute remaining.
"They got their butt kicked," Sherman said of the backups. "I didn't think the backup players played real well. We didn't move the ball well after the Green touchdown."