GREEN BAY – The Packers, not playing their starters, wrapped up their 2021 preseason with a 19-0 loss to the Bills at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. QB Jordan Love learned a lesson or two.
Going against Buffalo's starting defense for the majority of the first half, Love was effective moving the ball down the field. But a couple of his own mistakes cost him points.
The worst was on his second drive, right after converting on fourth-and-1 with a well-executed rollout throw for 23 yards to tight end Dominique Dafney. On the next snap, Love lost his footing on the play-action fake and just threw the ball up for grabs in the end zone, despite it being first down from the Buffalo 21. Predictably, the ball was picked off by Bills safety Micah Hyde.
Then on the next drive, after a communication mixup with backup center Jake Hanson led to a delay-of-game penalty on third-and-goal from the 5, Love threw another careless pass into traffic that could have been intercepted.
"I told him that you can't ever just risk it quite like that unless it's fourth down and the game's on the line," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said.
Love put together drives of 74, 54 and 65 yards in the first half, but none resulted in points.
The first failure wasn't really on him, as a missed edge block on third-and-goal prevented AJ Dillon from scoring in close. Then Love's fourth-down pass was tightly covered. And the third drive would have at least produced points had Mason Crosby not missed a chip-shot 28-yard field goal.
But Love (12-of-18, 149 yards, one INT, 69.0 rating) also wasn't at his best with those chances to score.
"Certainly these are teachable moments and I think you have to experience those and go through those in a game setting to really learn from them," LaFleur said. "I'm pretty certain that he will learn from those mistakes and hopefully he doesn't repeat them."
Highmark Stadium hosted the preseason finale between the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills on Aug. 28, 2021.
2. The defense had similar problems closing the deal but earned valuable experience as well.
The Packers' reserves on defense had the Bills' No. 1 offense in third-and-20 but gave up a 31-yard touchdown pass to QB Josh Allen. They had them backed up on the 2-yard line but allowed a 22-yard completion before forcing a punt. And they allowed conversions on third-and-8, fourth-and-2, and third-and-goal from the 3 on Buffalo's second scoring drive.
"That's one of the premier teams in the National Football League. To go against their starters, or the majority of their starters, almost for an entire half, that's a great learning experience for all those guys and hopefully a confidence booster," LaFleur said. "I thought we did some really good things on both sides of ball for the majority of the first half, we just didn't finish."
3. Royce Newman sure looks like the starter at right guard, but the rookie is taking nothing for granted.
Newman, a fourth-round pick from Ole Miss, started his second straight preseason game and appears to have locked up the starting job at right guard for Week 1.
He said, "We'll have to see," regarding the final decision, but he's made the transition from playing tackle last season to guard this year with minimal difficulty. Newman did start at guard in college in 2019.
"Just getting used to how much quicker it is on the inside and how you've got to react faster, because they're right there," Newman said of the biggest challenge with the switch.
"It's all about confidence, just being able to trust yourself, trust your hands, trust your feet."
4. Linebacker Isaiah McDuffie had a strong homecoming game.
McDuffie, a rookie sixth-round pick from Boston College who is on the roster bubble, is a Buffalo native who was returning to the stadium in which he played several memorable high school playoff games.
Playing in front of dozens of family and friends in the stands, McDuffie led the defense with nine total tackles and added a half-sack of Bills backup QB Jake Fromm on an inside blitz.
"As soon as I got drafted, as soon as the schedule came out, I was like, 'Oh man, I'm going back to Buffalo,'" McDuffie said. "Once in a lifetime deal."
After getting a late start to training camp due to a hamstring injury, McDuffie finished the preseason as strong as he could. Whether it's enough to make the 53-man roster, he'll find out by Tuesday.
5. The coaching staff and special teams navigated some change-ups pretty well.
LaFleur did not call any plays in this game, turning that duty over to QB coach/passing game coordinator Luke Getsy when Love was in the game. Then tight ends coach Justin Outten and receivers coach Jason Vrable took their turns as the play-callers as well when Kurt Benkert took over at QB.
"I thought there was great communication on the line, and I thought they did a good job of getting the play-calls in, which is certainly the most important part, and being decisive," LaFleur said. "The quarterbacks can feel that. The quicker you get those play-calls in, with that conviction in your voice, they feel that, and I think they feed off that confidence, which transcends to the other 10 guys in the huddle."
On the Packers' final punt of the game, Crosby filled in for JK Scott, who was experiencing some cramps in the heat. Crosby had never punted in an NFL game and had one punt his senior year in college at Colorado, a 43-yarder in 2006. This one went for 41 yards.
"I do think it's a good lesson for our guys of just making sure that they stayed properly hydrated so we don't have a situation like that," LaFleur said.