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Game recap: 5 takeaways from Packers' preseason victory over Bengals

A review of Jordan Love’s first night, plus youthful production across the board

QB Jordan Love
QB Jordan Love

CINCINNATI – The Packers opened their preseason with a 36-19 road victory Friday night over the Bengals at Paycor Stadium.

Here are five takeaways from the start of game action:

1. Jordan Love played two series and wishes he could have one throw back.

The new starting QB's opening series ended when he missed rookie tight end Luke Musgrave wide open over the middle on third down.

Love rebounded to direct a touchdown drive on his second possession, hitting Romeo Doubs in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard score, but the early miss was unfortunate.

"Just missed him," Love said. "That's an easy throw, routine throw. Just couldn't come up with it. Other than that, I think we played well."

Playing against the Bengals No. 2 defense, and without left tackle David Bakhtiari, Love finished 7-for-10 for 46 yards with the TD. One of his other incompletions came on a deep ball to Christian Watson, which was broken up by the safety swooping over toward the sideline.

"I'm trying to hold him as much as I can with my eyes," Love said. "He covered a lot of ground to make that play."

Head Coach Matt LaFleur thought maybe Love could've put the throw out there even further for Watson to run under it, but regardless, it'll be a good piece of film to learn from.

"A lot of good came out of it," LaFleur said of playing the starters a little, a departure from his usual preseason routine. "Just the poise he showed, the command he showed. I thought it was a really good first exposure for him this season."

The starting defense, minus Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary, played one series and got a three-and-out with the help of a sack by nickel corner Keisean Nixon.

2. LaFleur called Sean Clifford a "gamer" the other day, and the rookie QB proved him right.

Clifford, the fifth-round pick from Penn State, was up and down early, zipping a couple of tight throws in but also throwing two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.

He bounced back from the two picks to lead a successful two-minute drive at the end of the first half for a touchdown, and then he put 10 more points on the board in the third quarter.

"I do love the fact he had to battle through some adversity," LaFleur said. "To see him not be fazed by those situations, I thought it showed something … you can't coach that. You can talk about it all you want, but it's intrinsic. He possesses that."

Clifford wound up 20-of-26 for 208 yards with one TD and the two INTs.

"It's tough as a quarterback to have that next-play mentality after something like that," Love said of Clifford's two picks. "But he did exactly that. He was able to bounce back, got the touchdown before half, came out in the second half and got rolling."

3. Several young players shined on offense, none brighter than running back Emanuel Wilson.

Wilson, an undrafted rookie from Fort Valley State, scored on an 11-yard TD run late in the third quarter and then added an 80-yard TD scamper in the fourth quarter, finishing with six carries for 111 yards and the two scores.

His big night came 14 years to the day after he lost his father, and he threw himself right into the middle of the battle for the third running back spot.

"That was by far the best I'd say he's looked," LaFleur said. "Anytime you rip off an 80-yarder, that's a pretty good deal."

Fifth-round receiver Dontayvion Wicks (three catches, 68 yards) and undrafted receiver Malik Heath (3-36) also made their presence felt. Wicks made the big play on the two-minute drive at the end of the first half, snagging a rocket throw on a slant from Clifford in tight coverage and taking off for a 47-yard gain.

Second-year receiver Samori Toure had a productive night as well, catching three passes for 56 yards. On kickoff return, Toure bobbled one catch and got tackled quickly but recovered from that to post a 44-yard return later in the game.

4. Rookie Carrington Valentine continues to ball out on defense, but kicker Anders Carlson hit another bump in the road.

Valentine, starting in place of Alexander and playing a ton of snaps, continues to play above his seventh-round draft status. His strong play from training camp carried over to the game in a big way, as he intercepted one pass, broke up two others, and got in on multiple tackles as well.

"He's got the skill set you look for – he's athletic, he's long, he's not afraid, and I love that about him," LaFleur said. "He's got a great demeanor, he's extremely coachable, and from the moment we've gotten him he's had a great attitude.

"We're really excited about what he could turn into and develop into, but it's only one game. He has to realize that, all these guys do. You have to go out and do it consistently."

Consistency continues to be an issue for Carlson, the sixth-round pick who was having a solid night with two made PATs and a 45-yard field goal before he missed the PATs on Green Bay's last two touchdowns.

"I don't want to look too far into it," LaFleur said. "It's one game. As long as you learn from it, get better and make the necessary adjustments, a lot of times you come back stronger from it."

The Green Bay Packers kicked off their first preseason matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023.

5. One piece of injury news clearly wasn't good.

Tight end Tyler Davis (knee), offensive linemen Caleb Jones (ankle) and Luke Tenuta (ankle), and running back Tyler Goodson (shoulder) all left the game.

Davis and Goodson had both scored touchdowns before their injuries.

LaFleur said unfortunately the injury to Davis looks significant.

"T.D., my heart hurts for him," he said. "He's been a key contributor to our success over the last couple years, whether it's on (special) teams or carving out a role in our offense.

"He's the consummate professional, a great teammate, just a great human, and we're going to miss him."


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