As the final seconds were ticking down in the first half Thursday night – just about the time the Kansas City Chiefs backups were about to score the game’s first touchdown – a scan of the Green Bay Packers’ sideline revealed the following:
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers stood with his arms crossed, wearing a baseball cap – not the red, white and blue regalia he’d donned for the Welcome Back Luncheon a day earlier, although he would be wearing it after his post-game shower.
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews stood near his position coach, Kevin Greene, taking copious notes on a thick, white board.
Defensive tackle B.J. Raji sat comfortably on an orange Gatorade cooler near the bench area.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson listened intently to the coaches on the headset he was wearing.
Wide receiver Randall Cobb strolled about the sideline, wearing a visor and carrying his helmet with his hands clasped behind his back.
Cornerback Tramon Williams, who’d played all of one snap – albeit a memorable one, as he snared an interception on his only play – stood with his young secondary mates, talking.
And the team’s top six offensive linemen were split in two groups. At one end of the sideline, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, left guard Josh Sitton, right guard T.J. Lang and swing tackle Marshall Newhouse surveyed the scene, no doubt looking at all the empty seats throughout Arrowhead Stadium. Near the bench area, left tackle David Bahktiari and right tackle Don Barclay appeared to be doing the same.
So why are we telling you all this?
Well, two reasons: One, that’s about all the Packers’ starters did during Thursday night’s preseason-ending 30-8 loss to the Chiefs.
But two, about the same time all of those key players were standing on the sideline, the New York Giants announced this on their team Twitter feed:
The Giants announce that RB Andre Brown has a fractured leg.
The Giants planned on having Brown, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns last season, share time at running back with David Wilson this year. He went down in the second quarter at New England.
So while the season ticketholders who are forced to pay full price certainly deserve more for their hard-earned money than what amounts to junior varsity football, it’s hard to blame any coach – including Packers head man Mike McCarthy and Chiefs boss Andy Reid, who followed the same format – for not wanting to risk anyone if significance in the most meaningless of meaningless preseason games.
“This is really the point that you work towards,” McCarthy said after letting offensive coordinator Tom Clements call the plays so he could spend the game observing. “It’s a tough 2 1/2 days in front of you (with the final cuts), but it’s all about the regular season. Everything that you’ve started since the day your season has ended is about getting ready for the opening of the regular season. It’s all part of your plan, the adjustment in your plan, the process, and we’ll be at that point come Monday.
“I’ve laid out the priorities for our football team. To create opportunities for personnel evaluation is No. 1, quality of play is No. 2 and ultimately winning the football game (is No. 3). I don’t think we accomplished any of the last two. We obviously accomplished the first one.”
Whether their quality of play will be good enough once the games start to count is hard to predict. The Packers (1-3) face the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in 10 days, and they’ll do so with an offense that scored a not-so-grand total of two preseason touchdowns (both by backup units); a starting quarterback who played only five series and 45 snaps; a reconfigured offensive line that played only one snap together on Thursday night when Newhouse replaced Bakhtiari on the second play of the game; and a defense that heads back to San Francisco intent on erasing 579 from its collective memory bank but limited preseason evidence of improvement.
“You’d have to ask Mike that, but I feel like I’m ready,” Rodgers replied when asked if he felt he should’ve gotten enough preseason work. “I’ve played a lot of football around here and I did extra conditioning this week to make sure I’m ready for 60 minutes.
“We’ve had preseasons in the past where we’ve definitely played more (as starters), but I like our team. I think we’ll be ready to go next week.”
Chiefs first-year coach Andy Reid took the same approach and faced the same questions as McCarthy about his team’s preparedness for its opener against Jacksonville.
“I mixed it up a bunch of different ways, but I felt that they had good work this preseason and just wanted to get a look at this last group and make sure we had a good evaluation,” Reid said. “We have some guys that are fairly close and have to make decisions on. So we have to make sure we knock these out.”
After the Packers face the 49ers, the defending NFC champions, on Sept. 8, they’ll play host to the Washington Redskins, who went 10-6 and won the NFC East last year; play at Cincinnati, which went 10-6 and was an AFC Wild Card entry; and, after their bye week and a home game against Detroit, play at defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore on Oct. 13. Not exactly an easy start.
“I think we feel ready. I think coach (McCarthy) does a good job of getting the amount of reps for the necessary guys that need it. I think we’ve gotten plenty. I definitely think we’re ready,” Sitton said after playing only three snaps. “We’re used to playing tough schedules around here. That’s been the theme around here for a while. We’re used to big games. It seems like every game is a big game. I don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s just the nature of the business.”
Rodgers, Matthews, tight end Jermichael Finley all went through warmups, but McCarthy decided to play it safe and sit them. (Wide receiver James Jones did not play, either.)
Rodgers said afterward that it was the plan all along for him not to play. Vince Young started for Rodgers, Mike Neal started for Matthews and D.J. Williams, Matthew Mulligan, Brandon Bostick and Ryan Taylor all got long looks at the muddled tight end position.
The Packers were also without safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring), cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring), inside linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) and special teams ace Jarrett Bush (ankle), who did not dress.
“I feel that we’ll be prepared,” said Williams, who was sidelined until this week by a bone bruise in his knee sustained in the second practice of training camp. “I think we’re going to bring a lot of energy, I like the play style we’ve been playing with all preseason. I’ve had the opportunity to sit back and watch, and I see what the coach wants – toughness, physicality. That’s the play style he’s looking for. Obviously the playmaking and things are going to come. We’ve been doing that for years. But he wants that toughness and physicality. I think the guys have been doing that all preseason.”
On the bright side, Cobb, Nelson and Williams, who’d missed all three of the previous exhibitions, made their debuts. Kicker Mason Crosby, who held onto his job over two training-camp challengers, made a pair of field goals to finish exhibition play 6 for 6. And punter Tim Masthay not only got plenty of work (nine punts) but is now in midseason form, having booted 28 punts in four games.
“As a head coach not calling the game to sit there and watch the game live, watch the communication, watch the interaction, watch the Jumbotron for the great reviews, just gives you a whole different perspective that you do not get during the course of a normal game,” McCarthy said of his experience Thursday night. “This is always a great opportunity for me personally, just to get a grasp on the individuals that are on my board trying to fight their way onto the 53.”
And to those individuals, this game wasn’t worthless, of course. Among backups, Young, who beat out incumbent Graham Harrell for the backup job, got extended work, even though it was largely unproductive (14 of 30, 144 yards, two sacks, two fumbles, 61.0 passer rating). Wide receiver Jeremy Ross, who seemed to have slipped onto the roster bubble in recent weeks, helped himself with a team-leading three receptions for 50 yards. Undersized safety Chris Banjo, who is battling for the No. 4 safety spot, had a quarterback pressure early in the game and then had a 14-yard sack midway through the fourth quarter.
“I think I did pretty good – getting the ball out, not getting sacks, different things like that. That’s all you can ask for with the situation we were in tonight – running the ball, not trying to do a lot of different things, look at different players, look at different guys in the offensive line, running backs, tight ends,” Young said, while also admitting that he’s no lock to make the roster as the backup. “Just understanding the situation, all I could do was my job, and I think I did OK. I could’ve had some better throws, but overall, I did OK.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.