Game Review: Rodgers, Rookies Lead Packers Over Steelers

The Packers scuffled through a slow start but rebounded with a solid performance by Aaron Rodgers and productive debuts by rookies James Jones and Brandon Jackson to defeat Pittsburgh 13-9 Saturday night at Heinz Field. - More DL Cranks Up Pressure | Packers-Steelers Gameday


PITTSBURGH - The Green Bay Packers scuffled through a slow start but rebounded with a solid performance by Aaron Rodgers and productive debuts by rookies James Jones and Brandon Jackson to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-9 in their 2007 preseason opener on Saturday night at Heinz Field.

Rodgers led the Packers on three consecutive scoring drives, one to close the first half and then two to open the second half. Using his legs to buy some time and find openings in the Pittsburgh secondary, he completed several throws from outside the pocket and finished 18-of-27 passing for 168 yards and one touchdown.

"Being this is my third year in the West Coast offense, my second year in Coach (McCarthy)'s offense, I'm just getting more comfortable," said Rodgers, who posted a 95.9 quarterback rating, and also had a 20-yard run on a scramble. "I feel like this definitely wasn't my best performance. I left some throws out there I'd like to hit, but there's a lot of positives."

Two of those were rookies Jones and Jackson, who in their first appearance as pros made key plays on those scoring drives.

Jones led the receiving corps with six catches for 58 yards, while Jackson was the workhorse for a shorthanded backfield, churning out 57 yards on 16 carries.

Jones' best play came during the two-minute drill to close the first half. On third-and-5, he caught a short pass and then made a nifty open-field move to break into daylight along the sideline for a 21-yard gain. The play helped set up a 32-yard Dave Rayner field goal on the final play of the first half, bringing the Packers within 9-3.

"I was just glad I was able to touch the ball, able to run with it a little bit and show what I could do," said Jones, a third-round draft choice. "There's always things to work on. People see me catch the ball, but there's a lot of little things I have to work on to make my game better and help this team win."

Like the offense in general, Jackson started slow, with just one carry for more than 3 yards through the first 2 1/2 quarters. But then he broke loose as well, busting out runs of 16 and 14 yards in a span of four plays that helped set up a 52-yard field goal by Mason Crosby that closed the scoring at 13-9 late in the third quarter.

"I think I took my opportunities and ran with them," said Jackson, a second-rounder. "As time went on, every quarter, I felt I got more comfortable with the running, and the passing game and blocking."

Trailing 9-0, the Packers broke out of an offensive slump and got on the board on the final drive of the first half. Rodgers effectively executed the two-minute drill, moving the Packers 75 yards. In addition to the 21-yard completion to Jones, he also hit Ruvell Martin for 17 yards on a scramble to his right to convert another third down.

On the next third down, it appeared Rodgers and Martin had improvised for a 15-yard TD pass, but Martin had stepped out of the back of the end zone before coming back in to catch the throw, nullifying the TD and leading to the field goal.

On the Packers' opening possession of the second half, Rodgers was sharp again. A 19-yard pass to Martin became a big play when a 15-yard facemask penalty on Pittsburgh was tacked on. Then an 18-yard pass to Shaun Bodiford gave Green Bay goal-to-go, and on third down Rodgers neatly lofted a 3-yard TD pass to Carlyle Holiday, who made a nice catch with the defender in his face to give the Packers a 10-9 lead.

"It's important to perform when the lights are on, when it's live, when I can get hit," Rodgers said.

{sportsad300}Unfortunately, the Packers' No. 1 offense never got going. In four possessions with Brett Favre at quarterback, Green Bay failed to record a first down and generated just 12 yards of offense, with one holding penalty.

The Packers averaged nearly 10 yards to go on each of the four third-down tries, and Favre finished his night just 2-for-7 for 7 yards.

"I'm happy with a win," center Scott Wells said. "But I would have loved to have had some points on the board out of that first group offense.

"But that's the way it is when you're getting limited snaps. It's hard to get things going. We knew it was going to be a grind coming in. They're got an exotic defense, moving guys around, walking around, so it's hard to identify who's who and where they're going to be. That usually will take some time to get the ball rolling, and the 2's were able to get in there and do that."

The No. 1 defense got off to a strong start, holding the Steelers to just one first down on their first three drives.

But Pittsburgh hit the Packers for two big plays on their next two possessions to take the lead. A 41-yard TD pass from Charlie Batch to Walter Young gave the Steelers a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter (Green Bay's Michael Montgomery blocked the extra point).

Then a 49-yard pass from Batch to Santonio Holmes set up a 27-yard field goal by Jeff Reed for a 9-0 advantage.

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