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Big plays all around highlight Packers' preseason victory

Aaron Rodgers returns to field, cornerbacks nab two INTs for TDs, tight ends enjoy productive night


GREEN BAY – If Mike McCarthy has said it once, he's said it a thousand times.

"You have to have big plays to win in this league," he said again on Thursday night.

They came in bunches in a 51-34 triumph for the Packers, and even though it was just a preseason victory over the Steelers, McCarthy is a believer in habits. If the big plays were any sign of what's to come for the 2018 Packers, the head coach will take it.

Both sides of the ball got in on the act as the Packers scored their most points in a preseason game since 2010 (59 vs. Indianapolis).

Defensively, cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Josh Jackson both jumped sideline routes for pick-sixes. Williams' came on the game's first play against Pittsburgh's No. 3 quarterback, rookie Mason Rudolph, taking it 25 yards for the score.

Jackson's came on the Steelers' second snap of the second half, against another young QB in Joshua Dobbs, and required a 22-yard jaunt.

While Williams made it look easy, Jackson had to reach out to snag the ball, stay in bounds, and accelerate toward the goal line.

"Tramon just jumped it from the get-go. As a football team, that's a great way to start the game," McCarthy said.

"And Josh, not only the interception, but the ability to get his balance and go down the sideline and score."

Offensively, Jake Kumerow's 82-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on an out route from QB DeShone Kizer in the third quarter highlighted a productive night that began with the No. 1 offense getting into the end zone on its first preseason drive.

With left tackle David Bakhtiari starting just 12 days after spraining his ankle on Family Night, Aaron Rodgers played the first series and got the offense going with a 27-yard slant pass to Davante Adams.

A handful of snaps later, Rodgers found new tight end Jimmy Graham in the end zone on third down for an 8-yard touchdown.

"We tried to feature Jimmy there a little bit with a couple calls," McCarthy said. "I was pleased with (Rodgers') time on the field."

Playing at Lambeau for the first time since Week 4 last year, Rodgers thanked the fans for the nice ovation he received, saying it meant a lot after all the time he missed last year with the broken collarbone. And he couldn't have been happier with what he was able to accomplish in a short, six-play stint.

Green Bay won its second preseason game of 2018, topping the Steelers, 51-34.

"I got rid of the nerves, got hit, had a scramble and a slide, and hit Jimmy and Davante. That's kind of the checklist of my first action," Rodgers said, whose checklist also included catching the Steelers with 12 men on the field once.

The TD pass to Graham was the type that could develop into an offensive staple. Graham was open on an in cut, but Rodgers threw it high anyway where only a 6-7 target could snag it, and Graham did.

"He can do it all over the field," Rodgers said. "He's an incredible athlete, he's got a wide, wide catch radius and there's a lot of things he can do. It's exciting to be able to have a guy like that."

The only negative for the first unit was a calf injury to starting right guard Justin McCray that forced him to leave the game. Running back Jamaal Williams also was reported to have an ankle injury. There was no update afterward.

Brett Hundley followed at QB with drives that produced a touchdown, on his own 10-yard scramble, plus two field goals. Then Kizer had a short TD pass to undrafted tight end Robert Tonyan before the second scoring toss to Kumerow.

Tonyan's TD capped a drive on which he had a 14-yard reception and drew a pass interference call in the end zone, while Hundley's touchdown drive featured downfield completions to tight ends Marcedes Lewis (23 yards) and Lance Kendricks (14 yards).

All told, five tight ends combined for nine catches for 106 yards and two scores in the game.

"Just pure production tonight," McCarthy said. "That's about as much production as I've seen from a tight end group in the preseason. I thought all those guys contributed."

As for Kumerow, he finished as the statistical leader with 114 yards on three catches, strengthening the Wisconsin-Whitewater product's bid for a roster spot after previous stints on the practice squads of the Bengals and Patriots.

"Jake's done a heck of a job," McCarthy said. "You could really see it in the OTAs. He keeps cashing in on his opportunities."

The touchdown gives Kumerow two long ones in two games after his 52-yarder last week against Tennessee, though he then exited the game with a shoulder injury.

"From the first time he got here, it's never been too big for him," Rodgers said, "and he continues to make plays and that's how you make the squad. You ball out on game day."

One of Green Bay's own practice-squad holdovers was doing the same in Reggie Gilbert. Bidding to become the defense's No. 3 outside linebacker behind starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry after two years on the practice squad and a late-season call-up in 2017, Gilbert recorded 2½ sacks in the first half, following up a strong preseason opener from last week.

"I can't say enough about Reggie," McCarthy said. "I love his path, his story, just the way he's grown in this program. He's a fine, young football player. Very versatile, too."

It wasn't flawless for the Packers by any means. Sloppy tackling on Pittsburgh running back James Conner on the Steelers' third drive of the game, followed by a Ty Montgomery fumble on a kickoff return, allowed the visitors to wipe out a 14-0 deficit in less than two minutes to tie the score early on.

Pittsburgh receiver James Washington also turned in a big night with a 54-yard reception and a pair of impressive touchdown catches on contested passes that Green Bay's reserve DBs would love to have back.

"There's plenty not to be excited about. We have a lot of work to do," McCarthy said. "But the trajectory of the football team, we're on a good path."

Highlights from pregame warmups at Lambeau Field