The return of four starters (offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher and wide receivers Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson) had a salutary effect upon the Packers offense in their Cleveland appearance. After settling for a lone field goal in short-term stints in the first two preseason games, quarterback Brett Favre and the first unit struck first with an impressive, 7-play, 78-yard scoring drive, appropriately climaxed by a 22-yard bullseye to the previously "missing" Driver.
Favre then further celebrated the return of his colleagues, promptly directing another long drive, this one a 14-play, 79-yard maneuver capped by a one-yard burst up the middle for the score by running back Ahman Green.
The latter, plus Ryan Longwell's conversion, merely squared the score, however, at 14-14, the Browns also having been up to some mischief on offense, including an 82-yard reverse screen pass to running back William Green for Cleveland's first score of the evening.
It was the Browns, in fact, who were up at halftime, 21-17, by way of a 20-yard Tim Couch pass to Kevin Johnson.
The Packers, however, took control in the third quarter as the offense largely took control, continuing to activate the scoreboard with first Craig Nall and then Akili Smith under center - and running back Herbet "Whisper" Goodman providing much of the locomotion.
Nall, taking over at the start of the second half, sent the Packers ahead to stay, president over a 10-play, 61-yard march culminated by Goodman's 8-yard bolt off left tackle for his first touchdown of the preseason. Longwell's PAT made it 24-21, Green Bay.
Goodman, in a virtuosic exhibition, personally accounted for 59 of the 61 yards on the drive - 27 rushing and 32 receiving.
The Green and Gold were back in the end zone much sooner than expected. On first down, following Longwell's kickoff to Cleveland, Packers defensive tackle Steve Martin intercepted quarterback Nate Hybl's pass at the Cleveland 21 and returned it to the 17. Five plays later, running back Nick Luchey lunged into the end zone from one yard out and, with Longwell's conversion giving Green Bay a 10-point advantage, 31-21.
There was little time for Green Bay to rest easy. Later in the third quarter, Nall was sacked at the Packers' 6-yard line and the Browns' Chris Crocker recovered at the Green Bay 7. On third down, Hybl hit fullback Billy Blanchard with a 7-yard strike for the score.
Then it was time for another version of the "Whisper Goodman Show." This time, with Akili Smith at the offensive controls, Goodman was responsible for "only" 38 of the 76 yards, climaxing the push on a 13-yard pass from Smith.
Longwell's conversion, which again staked the Packers to a 10-point lead (38-28), ended Green Bay's scoring for the evening. But not the Browns. They made one more run at it, mustering a 10-play, 57-yard drive finished off by a 39-yard Phil Dawson field goal.
Amassing 33 first downs, the Packers forged their best offensive performance of the preseason to date, closing out the evening with 421 net yards - 166 rushing and 255 passing.
Not surprisingly, Brett Favre emerged with an impressive 109.8 passer rating, with 9 completions in 14 passing attempts for 102 yards and 1 touchdown, with no interceptions.
But it was Smith who came up with the eye-popping "number," an imposing 143.8 reading based upon 5 completions in as many attempts for 45 yards and one TD - also without an interception.
Nall, meanwhile posted a respectable 82.0 mark, completing 3 of 5 passes for 37 yards, without a touchdown or interception, and veteran Doug Pederson, his rating diminished by an interception, ended his evening with a 40.6 rating, based on 9 completions in 17 attempts for 77 yards.
THE 'WHISPER' FILE: "You know, Whisper wasn't whispering tonight, he was making a lot of noise out there," Mike Sherman was pleased to observe when the subject of Herbert Goodman's explosive performance arose during his post-game press conference.
"And I don't normally give a game ball during the preseason," he added, "but if anyone deserved one, I gave him one tonight. I mean, he ran, he held on to the football. He ran powerfully, he picked up the blitz, he caught a big third down reception when we were backed up there. And he just did a great job of doing what he's supposed to do. And he really made an impression on me today...I thought he looked very strong out there."
Overall, Goodman produced 136 yards of offense, 80 rushing in 19 attempts, and 56 yards on 4 pass receptions, all three totals representing team highs for the game.
THE WALLS FILE: Tight end Wesley Walls, 37 years young, took full advantage of his first extensive opportunity and gave every indication that he is likely to become a substantial member of the offense.
The sure-handed, 15-year veteran, playing only in the first half, caught a team-leading 5 passes for 36 yards, one an 11-yarder which produced a first down at the Cleveland 26-yard line in the second quarter, setting up a Ryan Longwell field goal.
GM/HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN'S POST-GAME COMMENTS:
(on the play of the offense) "The starting eleven on offense...I thought they came together and did a nice job. There are some things that, obviously, we have to improve upon. That second possession, we were three-and-out, which we try to avoid that as much as possible.
"I think the tackles (Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, making their first appearances of the preseason) coming back and the receivers (Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson) coming back and certainly (Brett) Favre played his typical game.
"And I thought that Ahman Green really ran exceptionally well, as did we block pretty decently...So I was pleased with the starting offensive eleven.
"It was the first time we've had this group together since the Saints game (Sept. 15, 2002), the second game of last season. That did contribute to a fair amount of it, obviously, and hopefully we'll just build from that."
(on whether he was anxious about how Clifton and Tauscher would fare on their first time back?) "I'm anxious about our quarterback, first and foremost, usually. But also those tackles. But I've seen them in practice. We've really been cautious with them. They've been patient - they've been wanting to do more and I've held them back. And I think it's proved to be a good decision at this point. They'll play more next week and then hopefully be ready for the opener (vs. Minnesota Sept. 7)."
(on the defense) "Obviously, defensively, it wasn't a good enough performance. We gave up a big play on the first play. They ran a reverse screen pass that picked off our linebacker for a big gainer. They ran a stick knockdown in the end zone there on Sharper with man coverage for a touchdown, so that is frustrating. However, we had a few guys out of there from our front lineup. I thought our run defense was OK - not great, but it was OK. I thought the first group gave up about 40 yards of rushing...maybe 39 yards. But I think we gave up too many big plays and you can't do that in this league. You can't give up those explosive plays. That's going to win a game like that, normally.
"But, to our credit, I think they played hard, and a lot of mistakes they made are correctable. We have to improve our tackling. We missed a couple tackles that we should have made...But some guys did some very good things on defense."
(on whether he might be expecting more production from Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila) "I did see him apply some pressure. But he obviously didn't have a sack. But I've seen him in practice and in games do that, so it's not a lack of effort or determination. So I'll have to watch the tape to see exactly what was holding him back."
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIVE:
Running Back Herbert Goodman: "I'm basically just competing. Injuries are part of the game. It's unfortunate Najeh (Davenport) went down (with a strained calf), but when your number gets called, you've got to be ready for it."
Quarterback Akili Smith: (on his performance) "I'm happy with the way I played. I have two more chances...I feel really comfortable out there right now...I'm seeing the field pretty well."
Offensive Tackle Chad Clifton: (on his first game back from injury) "It all felt good out there. I've been able to come into training camp and pretty much do everything. A couple weeks back, we got into the two-a-day schedule. It was just a matter of coming out (and playing). You can't really prepare for a game. There's nothing like live bullets until you get there."
Running Back Ahman Green: (on the No. 1 offense) "We accomplished the things we wanted to do. We wanted to be efficient, no turnovers, no penalties, and just move the ball up the field, get in the end zone, which we did."
Quarterback Craig Nall: (on his performance) "Not bad. I think I did my job. Nothing spectacular. Went out for three drives, scored two touchdowns, a lot like last time (at Atlanta). I wish I had that play back (the fumble near the Packers end zone). The guy knocked the ball out of my hand. He made a good play, and I'll just rebound from it."
Safety Darren Sharper: (on the big plays given up by the No. 1 defense) "I'm not concerned, but I' m still not happy about it. It's preseason, that's when you get the glitches out of the way and that's what we're doing. A lot of the things we're giving (our opponents) are things that we can correct."
Offensive Tackle Mark Tauscher: (on his first game back from injury) "I'm still rusty. I'm not where I want to be, but I'm just happy to be out there playing. I can live with the mistakes right now, and hopefully get them cleaned up sooner rather than later."
Tight End Wesley Walls: "I really enjoyed myself out there tonight, to get back into football and get some action and help out. Coach (Sherman) made a point last week that we needed to start quicker on offense and come out with it, and we did that tonight. Brett (Favre) was firing on all cylinders, the offensive line was doing a great job, the running backs and receivers were making plays, tight ends were making plays. And it was fun."
(on Brett Favre) "He's a playmaker, and that's the reason I'm here. I had a special opportunity to get to come here and play. I put the green and gold on tonight and every time I pull it over (my head), I enjoy it. I'm really liking my opportunity."
-With the addition of Friday night's victory over the Browns, Mike Sherman now owns a 9-6-0 preseason record as Green Bay's head coach.
-Prospecting: There were no fewer than 23 scouts, representing the Packers and Browns' NFL rivals, on hand in the Browns Stadium press box to assess the personnel on the field.
-On defense, Chukie Nwokorie and Aaron Kampman started in place of sidelined Joe Johnson and Cletidus Hunt at left end and right tackle, respectively.
-Quarterback Brett Favre, center Frank Winters, safety Darren Sharper, linebacker Na'il Diggs and placekicker Ryan Longwell were the Packers' captains for Friday night's game.
-With the Browns wearing their white jerseys, the Packers took the rare opportunity to wear their green "home" jersey on the road.
-Wide receiver Robert Ferguson lost no time making his presence felt in his first appearance of the preseason, snaring a 12-yard Brett Favre pass for a first down on the initial offensive play of the game, then pulling in a 19-yarder for another first down two plays later.
-Donald Driver likewise made an early impact in his first preseason appearance, gathering in a Favre pass for the first touchdown of the evening on the seventh play of the game.
-Cornerback Al Harris registered his first interception to date early in the second quarter, picking off a Kelly Holcomb throw at the Green Bay 38-yard line. Quarterback Doug Pederson converted that opportunity into two quick first downs, reaching the Cleveland 32-yard line before Browns linebacker Andra Davis returned the favor, picking off a Pederson pass to end the drive.
-Antonio Chatman engineered a 27-yard punt return, the Packers' longest of the preseason, in the closing seconds of the first half. He also returned three kickoffs 58 yards, a 19.3-yard average, and caught one pass for a 7-yard gain.
-Quick Quote: CBS analyst Phil Simms, impressed by the power running of 245-pound Najeh Davenport, respectfully observed, "I would not want to be a defensive back tackling that man."
-Fifteen Packers sat out the Cleveland contest because of injury, the list including wide receivers Rob Johnson and Jörg Heckenbach, running backs Lamar Smith, Adam Tate and Tony Fisher, defensive ends Joe Johnson and Jermaine Petty, defensive tackles Gilbert Brown, James Lee, Rod Walker and Cletidus Hunt offensive linemen Reggie Coleman and Marcus Spriggs, tight end Tyrone Davis and defensive back Bryant Westbrook (now on I.R.).