Rodgers sharp, but Packers fall to Bengals
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP)—They trudged into Lambeau Field on Monday night, many still wearing their No. 4 jerseys and shaking their heads about the surreal sense of separation that gripped Green Bay for the past month.
They stood to give new starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers a warm reception— only to start grumbling when an early pass was deflected into the hands of a defender. But after that, Rodgers gave skeptical Packers fans a few reasons not to fret about life without Brett.
In his first start as Brett Favre’s replacement, Rodgers shrugged off a shaky beginning to deliver a pair of scoring drives and a handful of highlights in a 20-17 preseason loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Rodgers knows it will take much more for fans to embrace him, but it was a good first step toward winning them over.
“I’ve always felt like we have the best fans in the NFL, and that they would support our team regardless of how they feel about myself, or Brett, or management or whatever,” Rodgers said. “But it was a great reception when we took the field.”
The Packers definitively handed Rodgers the keys to one of the NFL’s best offenses after trading Favre to the New York Jets last week—ending an ugly, monthlong divorce with one of the most beloved players in franchise history.
And despite spending most of the past three seasons holding a clipboard, Rodgers didn’t show many signs of nerves in his first step out of Favre’s shadow. The Bengals tagged Rodgers for an early interception off a deflection, but he recovered to complete 9 of 15 throws for 117 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s been an interesting last month, but I think our team has gotten pretty tight,” Rodgers said. “The support from our teammates throughout the day today was definitely encouraging.”
The biggest play came to wide receiver James Jones, who caught a dart from Rodgers and ran for a 30-yard touchdown—despite bouncing off a jarring hit from Bengals safety Marvin White that knocked off his helmet.
“I was kind of rocked for a minute, too,” Jones said. “I was just hoping I was going the right direction.”
As Jones completed a “Lambeau Leap” into the grandstands, Rodgers ran down the field to congratulate him.
“I understand the attention around him, his performance tonight and him playing tonight.” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “But I saw Aaron just like he is every day. I thought he went out there, he played with excellent energy, which I always recall him playing with. I think he’s done a really good job being consistent, and understanding that the microscope is on him.”
Rodgers left the game after the first quarter with the Packers leading 10-0 after a sluggish performance by the Bengals’ No. 1 offense. Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer said he couldn’t imagine what it’s like to be in Rodgers’ shoes.
“I can pretty confidently say that no other quarterback in the league has ever stepped into a situation that he’s stepped into,” Palmer said. “But he’s handled it tremendously, he played extremely well tonight and you could tell the organization … you can tell why they have confidence in him.”
“Once we got going, we were sharp, we were crisp, we moved the ball effectively and got a couple of touchdowns,” Palmer said. “It was just good to just get that first game rust off and get some confidence on those last couple of drives and get ready for the next one.”
Palmer finished the game 5-for-9 for 33 yards with a touchdown, connecting with tight end Ben Utecht for a 14-yard score early in the second quarter.
Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick took over in the second quarter and led the Bengals to a touchdown and a field goal.
“Offensively, we got off to a slow start, but we picked up the pace as the half went on,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
Wide receiver Chad Johnson played into the second quarter, catching one pass for 10 yards. Afterward, Johnson said he was ready to put the “summer distraction”—where he seemed ready to talk his way out of Cincinnati—behind him.
“I’m going to go out and have some fun, like I always do every year,” Johnson said. “Y’all know how I am. … I’m going to have fun, trust me.”
Ruvell Martin, one of Rodgers’ favorite targets in practice, left the game with a head injury in the second quarter. He walked off the field unassisted but didn’t return. McCarthy would not say whether Martin had a concussion, but said it “looks like he’s going to be OK.”