The Packers' 2010 preseason opener had a little bit of everything Saturday night at Lambeau Field. Sloppy defense and a turnover put Green Bay in an early 14-point hole before the No. 1 offense climbed out of it. But then Cleveland's veteran kicker, Phil Dawson, drilled field goals from 58 and 46 yards in the final minute and a half to give the Browns a 27-24 win.
Most important to the Packers on this night was how the game started, and no one was pleased with it. Behind new quarterback Jake Delhomme, the Browns took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. A fourth-down pass for 12 yards to Mohamed Massaquoi was the key play, and Jerome Harrison's 4-yard TD run made it 7-0.
Moments later that lead was doubled when Packers running back Ryan Grant fumbled on the offense's first snap. Cleveland's Sheldon Brown recovered and returned it to the Green Bay 13, setting up Seneca Wallace's third-down TD pass to Brian Robiskie. Suddenly it was 14-0 less than halfway through the first quarter.
"You don't start football games that way," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "It doesn't matter who you're playing, where you're playing, especially at Lambeau Field. It's a learning experience for our football team."
To the Packers' credit, they bounced back quickly. Grant left the game after taking a blow to the head on his third carry, but then quarterback Aaron Rodgers caught fire. In a span of 11 plays covering two drives – with the defense finally settling down and getting a three-and-out in between – Rodgers completed 10 straight passes to produce two TD drives.
On the first, two completions to tight end Jermichael Finley covered 30 total yards before Rodgers saw the Browns setting up a corner blitz, which left receiver Greg Jennings one-on-one with safety T.J. Ward. Rodgers checked to a different play at the line to take advantage of the matchup, running back Brandon Jackson blocked the blitzer, and Jennings won his battle for a 25-yard touchdown.
"It just tells me that I'm seeing the game the way I want to see it, to be able to check off there," Rodgers said. "We did a nice job. We picked up the pressure there, bringing a corner blitz. We checked the protection, Brandon had a nice pick-up, and Greg ran a nice route to get open. And had a nice catch on an underthrown ball. That felt good, definitely."
Rodgers kept it going on the next drive, again finding Jennings (three catches, 68 yards) deep for a 34-yard gain. Jackson's 2-yard run broke up the string of nine straight pass plays, but then Rodgers dumped it off to Jackson for his 10th straight completion, an 11-yarder down to the 2. Fullback John Kuhn, with impressive second and third efforts to keep his feet, found the goal line and the game was tied at 14 early in the second quarter.
"We feel like we should score every time we get the ball," Rodgers said. "Every time we take that field we're expecting to put points on the board, it's just a matter of executing for us. When we execute the way we're capable of executing, it's tough to guard us."
Unfortunately, a failed third down on the offense's next possession ended the hot streak, and Rodgers' night. He finished 12-of-13 for 159 yards with a touchdown and 143.3 rating.
"I thought Aaron was sharp," McCarthy said. "He managed the huddle very well, saw a lot of pressure and made the appropriate checks. He took advantage of the one-on-one opportunities.
"To play against our defense every day in practice and then to come out here and see the amount of pressure we saw tonight, those are good things to help you prepare because I can promise Philadelphia is going to pressure us in Week 1. So there is going to be a lot of good film to learn from."
The game had the feel of a shootout, and that's certainly not what the Packers' defense wanted. With Green Bay beginning some substitutions here and there on defense, the Browns regained the lead right away, as Wallace led a 63-yard drive. His 26-yard screen pass to fullback Peyton Hillis and 20-yard TD pass to tight end Benjamin Watson over the middle put Cleveland back on top, 21-14.
"We had those type of games last year, and we can't allow that to happen again this year," cornerback Charles Woodson said of the back-and-forth play. "There's some things we're going to have to fix. Defensively, we're not at all happy with how we played."
Backup quarterback Matt Flynn was able to re-tie the game on the opening possession of the third quarter. A 22-yard pass to James Jones keyed the 78-yard drive. On third-and-5 from the Cleveland 20, Flynn's pass into the end zone to Jordy Nelson was incomplete, but Browns safety Nick Sorensen was called for pass interference, putting the ball on the 1. Kregg Lumpkin (11 carries, 42 yards) took it in from there to make it 21-all.
That was Flynn's only scoring drive, as he finished 9-of-15 for 69 yards with an interception, on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. He nearly produced another score, though, after Green Bay safety Derrick Martin made a sliding interception of a Colt McCoy pass at the Cleveland 37 late in the third quarter.
Lumpkin busted a 12-yard run to the 25 and it appeared the Packers might take the lead. But a Lumpkin fumble (recovered by Green Bay tackle Breno Giacomini), a holding penalty on Allen Barbre and a sack/fumble of Flynn (with Flynn recovering) knocked the Packers out of scoring range.
The sack wasn't the only big hit Flynn took behind some protection breakdowns. But still, Flynn felt alright about how the night went for him, believing he has taken another step forward in his third year.
"I don't think there's any question in my mind that I have, definitely mentally and physically," he said. "I feel very comfortable out there, the game has kind of slowed down for me, and I'm having a lot of fun, being out there with the guys, and all the work we put in on the offseason and being able to put it on the game field."
With No. 3 quarterback Graham Harrell in the game, the Packers took their only lead of the night. Rookie running back Quinn Porter's six carries for 22 yards helped set up a 33-yard field goal by Mason Crosby for a 24-21 advantage with 7:07 left. Porter finished with nine rushes for 38 yards.
But it was Cleveland's backups that finished the strongest. A 23-yard pass from fourth quarterback Brett Ratliff to tight end Alex Smith gave Dawson a crack at a monstrous 58-yard field goal, and he nailed it with 1:27 left to tie the game at 24.
After the Packers went three-and-out, Ratliff converted a fourth-and-6 at midfield with a 10-yard pass to Smith. Then he hit former Packers receiver Jake Allen for a 12-yard gain to the Green Bay 28 and called Cleveland's last timeout with 2 seconds left. Dawson was true from 46 yards on the final snap. Aug. 14 - Additional Packers-Browns game coverage