As kicker Ryan Longwell signaled to Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman that he could nail the soaking football through the uprights, San Diego Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer can only wish he had a clutch kicker.
"When he gives me a thumbs up, I put three on the board," Sherman said.
Longwell hit a 53-yard field goal in torrential rain conditions to win the Packers' first preseason game 10-7 against the Chargers with 38 seconds left in front of 69,611 fans on Thursday night.
"This ain't a dome, and it ain't San Diego to kick in," Longwell said. "When it comes to crunch time you've got to know this place."
The Chargers second-year kicker Nate Kaeding had never kicked in Lambeau Field and missed three goals in the fourth quarter. He was wide left from 45 yard and wide right from 44 yards twice. His misses started off the season on the wrong note for him following a season he ended on the wrong note. He missed the game-winner to beat the New York Jets in the playoff last year.
The Packers defense, however, deserves much of the credit for keeping the Chargers out of the end zone for two-and-a-half quarters.
"The starting defense did some pretty good things in some pretty difficult situation," head coach Mike Sherman said. "I think we can build from this."
The Packers allowed 317 yards of offense, but displayed the bend-but-don't-break defense that has become a staple for defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Safety Nick Collins ended a Chargers first-quarter drive with an interception.
Sherman challenged a fourth quarter touchdown pass from Chargers quarterback Cleo Lemon to wide receiver Ruvell Martin. The officials agreed with Martin, saying he was pushed out of bounds. Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees and the first team did not score any points.
"We took a step forward tonight," linebacker Hannibal Navies said.
The running game took a step backward, managing only 79 yards on 27 carries. They also fumbled the ball six times and lost three of them.
"First and foremost we have to take care of ball security," fullback William Henderson said. "There are no excuses."
The Packers had worked hard on ball security throughout training camp. They often practice holding on to ball with a slippery, silk covering.
Despite the work running back Ahman Green fumbled twice and lost one of them. He managed only 16 yards on eight carries.
The rain, which came down in sheets, played a major role in Green's fumbles. After his frist fumble, he tried to stay dry by removing his gloves. He called the ball "a fish out of water."
Offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said Green will work off the rust and become sure-handed by season's start.
"We've got him banged a little bit," he said. "Once he gets over that, he may go stretches where he goes 200 carries without a fumble. ... He's got to get hit."
Green averaged only two yards-a-carry but said he would have gained more yardage had he received enough action to get into rhythm. He played a quarter-and-a half.
"It takes me a while to get into the game," he said.
But who wants to run when you can throw, and quarterback Brett Favre sizzled, completing 9-of-10 passes for 91 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown to wide receiver Donald Driver.
"He looked awesome as usual," Green said.
Rookie quarterback Aaron Rodgers faced much greater adversity. The rookie, who received an ovation upon entering the game with 6:02 left in the second quarter, lost communication in his helmet and got stepped on several times.
His numbers were a meager 2-of-6 passes for seven yards but more impressive when considering the circumstances.
"He kept his composure," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said.
The coaching staff had wanted to take an extended look at Rodgers and J.T. O'Sullivan. However, O'Sullivan's snaps were limited because Favre played into the second quarter.
"He only had 11 plays after the first quarter," Sherman said, "And I wanted to let him play one more series."
As a result, O'Sullivan did not enter the game until 7:26 left in the fourth quarter. He finished 4-of-8 for 24 yards.
"O'Sullivan didn't get a fair shake in my mind," Sherman said. "It's very hard to assess a quarterback in the preseason."
Longwell's clutch kick left observers with a positive assessment of the night.
"It was tough night with the rain," Longwell said. "But you never lose the feeling of satisfaction of coming through in that situation. That's the ultimate stress for an athlete."