GREEN BAY — Early Thursday afternoon, Aaron Rodgers took to social media to give away four tickets to the Green Bay Packers’ preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field.
The two-time NFL MVP quarterback left the tickets at the bar of his favorite local restaurant for the first person to arrive and know the name of his favorite Game of Thrones character. It took the winner just 59 minutes to get to Chives in Suamico, inform the bartender that Daenerys of the House Targaryen is Rodgers’ favorite character and collect her four tickets.
So at least somebody got their money’s worth out of the Packers’ 24-9 victory over the Eagles.
All kidding aside, that’s the play-it-safe preseason world NFL coaches and players — and fans, too — live in these days, and given the impact wide receiver Jordy Nelson’s season-ending knee injury had on the Packers’ season two years ago, who could blame them for playing, as coach Mike McCarthy likes to call it, “the high side of caution” with the team’s most important players?
“You have a lot of things that come into this that help you make those decisions. Because at the end of the day, it’s risk assessment,” McCarthy said. “What is the right number (of snaps) to play a player? No one has that answer. Because you have to accept the risk, and the risk is acceptable based on how much we put into that decision.”
So, Rodgers did little else on Thursday after his Instagram insta-giveaway; he went through pregame warmups but did not dress for the game. Nelson, who hasn’t played in the preseason since tearing his right ACL in a 2015 preseason game in Pittsburgh but says he expects to see some exhibition action this summer, didn’t suit up either. Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix called it a night after two plays (and one tackle for loss), while key defensive starters Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Mike Daniels and Morgan Burnett were done after one series.
As it was, the Packers — after a relatively injury-free first two weeks of training camp — lost cornerback Damarious Randall to a concussion, safety Kentrell Brice to a finger injury and backup center Don Barclay to an ankle injury in the first half alone. In the second half, they lost wide receiver Malachi Dupre to a scary hit that sent him to a local hospital for evaluation, and cornerback Raysean Pringle to a possible concussion.
Limiting the veterans’ snaps gave the Packers’ backups and younger roster candidates ample work.
No. 2 quarterback Brett Hundley got the start for the resting Rodgers, and while his first three drives ended in a three-and-out punt, a Ty Montgomery fumble and another punt after a third-down drop by Jeff Janis, he later directed a mid-second quarter drive that included a 10-yard strike on a slant to Geronimo Allison to pick up a key third down and, two plays later, threw a 20-yard dart on a stop-and-go route to Janis.
The Janis touchdown — his sixth in preseason play in his career, even after missing all of last summer’s exhibition games because of a broken hand — gave the Packers a 14-6 lead, adding to Trevor Davis’ 68-yard punt return earlier in the half.
Hundley played the entire first half and completed 8 of 15 passes for 90 yards with the touchdown and an interception, which he threw to Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks on a crossing route by Max McCaffrey on his final pass of the half.
Hundley finished the night with a passer rating of 66.0, although he was victimized by at least three dropped passes. No. 3 quarterback Joe Callahan took over after that.
“I thought Brett did some good things. We had a rough start there,” McCarthy said. “But it was great execution on the touchdown and a great check there by Brett on the touchdown.”
Davis’ return was the first moment the home crowd of 74,330 had to cheer for after the No. 1 defense allowed the Eagles to march 60 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown on their opening possession.
On that drive, the Packers allowed quarterback Carson Wentz to hit wide receiver Jordan Matthews for a 6-yard gain on third-and-2 after he shed a tackle by hybrid safety/linebacker Burnett at the line of scrimmage. The defense then let the Eagles convert a fourth-and-6 on another Wentz-to-Matthews completion.
Then, on third-and-13, Wentz escaped an on-rushing Matthews’ grasp and hit wide receiver Mack Hollins on an in-breaking route against Packers’ top pick Kevin King, who then missed the tackle after being beaten inside.
Hollins then stiff-armed Quinten Rollins on his way to the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead.
“We did some good things, had them in some good down-and-distances,” McCarthy said of the missed tackles. “Obviously the breakdown on the sack and the (missed) tackles led to big play. ... I think this is kind of a normal first night.”
After the backups took over, however, the Packers defense forced four takeaways: A fumble forced and recovered by LaDarius Gunter, a Joe Thomas interception, a fumble forced by Blake Martinez and recovered by Christian Ringo and an interception by Marwin Evans.
“We took a step tonight as a football team,” McCarthy said. “(But) I think all of us agree that we have a lot of work to do.”
Philadelphia 6 0 3 0 — 9
Green Bay 0 17 0 7 — 24
Phi — Hollins 38 pass from Wentz (pass failed), 6:33.
GB — Davis 68 punt return (Crosby kick), 11:50.
GB — Janis 20 pass from Hundley (Crosby kick), 8:25.
GB — FG Crosby 39, 5:33.
Phi — FG Sturgis 25, 1:13.
GB — M.Clark 7 pass from Hill (Crosby kick), :09.
Att. — 74,330.
First downs 16 14
Total Net Yards 322 261
Rushes-yards 19-47 18-47
Passing 275 214
Punt Returns 4-3 2-94
Kickoff Returns 0-0 2-50
Interceptions Ret. 1-6 2-31
Comp-Att-Int 35-54-2 22-36-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 1-8 5-48
Punts 5-43.8 6-44.0
Fumbles-Lost 5-2 5-2
Penalties-Yards 4-20 5-25
Time of Possession 32:03 27:57
RUSHING — Philadelphia, Clement 7-13, D.Evans 1-9, Blount 4-9, Marshall 1-6, McGloin 1-6, Pumphrey 4-5, Agholor 1-(minus 1). Green Bay, Hill 2-14, Williams 4-14, Callahan 1-11, Hundley 1-4, Phillips 3-4, Stanback 2-0, A.Jones 2-0, Montgomery 3-0.
PASSING — Philadelphia, Wentz 4-4-0-56, McGloin 28-42-1-205, D.Evans 3-8-1-22. Green Bay, Hundley 8-15-1-90, Callahan 10-16-0-103, Hill 4-5-0-69.
RECEIVING — Philadelphia, Treggs 7-91, Pumphrey 5-12, Hollins 4-64, Ward 4-12, Burton 3-19, J.Matthews 3-18, B.Btrn 3-12, Clement 2-31, Watford 2-12, Gibson 2-12. Green Bay, Yancey 3-67, McCaffrey 3-60, D.Adams 2-26, M.Clark 2-19, Dupre 2-16, Kerridge 2-5, Janis 1-20, Bennett 1-13, Crockett 1-12, Allison 1-10, Montgomery 1-8, Mays 1-5, Cobb 1-1, A.Jones 1-0.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Philadelphia, Sturgis 46.