THE WEEK PAST: Things could hardly have begun less auspiciously than they did for the Packers in their '02 debut in Lambeau Field, no thanks to the enterprising Browns.
The game was only 11 seconds old when the visitors found themselves out front, 7-0. The touchdown came on the wings of Ryan Longwell's opening kickoff, swiftly returned 93 yards down the east sidelines for the score, Phil Dawson adding the conversion.
And, to the discomfiture of the Green and Gold, already embarrassed by that opening contretemps, there shortly was more of the same. The Packers went three-and-out against Cleveland's defense following the succeeding kickoff and the Browns, on their second possession, proceeded to drive 77 yards in 13 plays for a second touchdown, executed by way of a 33-yard Tim Couch pass to wide receiver Quincy Morgan. Dawson's PAT made it 14-0.
And it could have been worse. After the Packers finally began to make inroads, responding with a 28-yard Longwell field goal at 8:08 of the second quarter, Cleveland's Corey Fuller intercepted a Brett Favre pass at the Browns' 46 and the visitors were again in prime field position.
Fortuitously, the Packers' turnaround shortly began when the Browns, their drive stalled by a bristling Green Bay defense, lined up for a 50-yard Dawson field goal attempt. Hunt barged through to bat down the ball with his right hand and rookie cornerback Erwin initially pounced upon the erratically bouncing leather. It squirted from beneath him, however, and upfield, where the sure-handed Darren Sharper scooped up the football and sprinted 35 yards into the end zone with only 19 seconds remaining in the first half. Longwell's conversion pared the Browns' lead to 14-10 at the intermission.
The Packers' renaissance continued as the second half began. Taking the second half kickoff with Favre under center, they closed to within a point, Longwell kicking a 33-yard field goal at 3:37 of the third quarter.
The Browns, however, were not finished. They retaliated with a field goal drive of their own, Dawson connecting from 28 yards to give Cleveland a 17-13 lead.
Then, with Doug Pederson at quarterback, Green Bay's offense took a substantial hand in the proceedings for the first time. Skillfully presiding over a 7-play, 80-yard drive, Pederson finished off his project with a short strike to first-year running back Chris Gall, who maneuvered his way 32 yards into the end zone for the touchdown that put the Packers ahead to stay. With Longwell's conversion, the Packers went up, 20-17.
They were not home free, but second-year pro Todd Franz made them considerably more comfortable, picking off a pass by Cleveland quarterback Josh Booty and returning it 42 yards for a touchdown in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. Longwell then closed out Green Bay's scoring with his third conversion of the evening.
The Browns made one more offensive gesture, capped by a 35-yard Jay Taylor field goal to pull within a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter but the Packers went on a time-consuming drive to control the football until only 2 minutes remained.
Statistically, the performance was not a resounding success from the Packers' perspective, offensively. They ended the evening with 229 net yards - well below their customary production - compared to Cleveland's 301. And the Browns had the better of in time of possession, 32 minutes, 21 seconds, to the Packers' 27 minutes, 39 seconds.
Defensively, however, the Packers had their moments, holding the Browns to 68 yards rushing and a 3.0-yard average.
Quarterback Brett Favre, playing the first half and the opening offensive series of the third quarter, finished the evening with 10 completions in 14 attempts for 63 yards, with one interception.
Doug Pederson taking over from Favre, emerged with a glossy 138.7 quarterback rating, based on 5 completions in 7 attempts for 63 yards and one touchdown, without an interception.
Ahman Green, Tony Fisher and Rondell Mealey accounted for all but 7 of the Packers' 87 rushing yards, Green gaining 30 yards in 10 attempts, Fisher 27 in 6 carries, and Mealey 23 yards, also in 6 attempts.
GM/HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN'S POST-GAME COMMENTS:
(on the offensive performance) "Ours first offense was three-and-out, three-and-out....We didn't light it on fire. We struggled in the red zone and didn't get a touchdown when we should have had a touchdown. I don't think our first offense played particularly well. We're better than that."
(on the wide receivers situation) "I don't think it's unsettled. Javon Walker made a key fourth down catch for us. If he would have had a better throw, he would've had a touchdown. Charles Lee did a nice thing. Fergie made a great catch. I don't see it as unsettled, I see it as a work in progress. I have high expectations of the group and I think they'll just keep getting better."
(on Hardy Nickerson's first win in Lambeau) "If he wants to get his first win, he's going to have to beat the Atlanta Falcons."
(on the starting safeties) "Sharper had a great tackle. Bowen had a great tackle. I thought those two safeties stepped up and made some big plays."
(on Erwin Swiney's game) "I asked him before the game in front of the guys if he was nervous, and I don't know if he knew what he was. He gave up a touchdown pass, but other than that I thought he competed, and that's all we can ask of him. No matter what happens, he competed today. Obviously there are things we wish he would've done better, but he competed, and that's all we can ask for."
(on Craig Nall's performance) "I think he had a great chance tonight. I put him in the game, if he doesn't move the ball, we've got to punt. He was put into the game in a very critical situation, so critical I even wondered whether I was going to put him in there. He converted a key third down play. He called the play, executed, great throw, good catch, move the chains, got a few first downs. I think he made a great statement today."
Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell: (on Cletidus Hunt's block of a Cleveland field goal, leading to the Packers' first touchdown) "We want him to think about making plays, get him to thinking about playing Packer football...making plays."
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIVE:
Linebacker Hardy Nickerson: (on his first game in Lambeau field on the winning team) "It feels great, playing here is everything I heard it would be and hoped it could be. It's amazing to be part of the mystique and history of Lambeau Field from the home-field side. It's my first win here and it's great. I feel like the monkey is off my back."
Safety Darren Sharper: (on his performance in the second quarter) "We came out a little down, especially with that kickoff return and then that long drive they had early on. You always want to make something happen, I kept telling myself, 'make a play, make a play,' and in the second quarter it seemed like things started going our way. I just made sure I took advantage of it. I tried to make sure that the defense would keep going and you always want the other guys to feed off your energy so when I made that hit I wanted to make sure that all the guys were feeling my excitement."
(on the blocked kick by Hunt) "I thought that my man (Erwin) Swiney was going to pick it up but it seemed to keep spitting out so I just waited and when I got the chance I took my time, scooped it up and run it in. It happened to work out and I'd say my Lambeau leap was about a 7.5 tonight; there's some room for improvement."
Cornerback Erwin Swiney: (on coaches' comments about his exceptional game) "I was just trying to play hard and stay focused. I gave up a touchdown, but I made sure to keep after it and I came back and, as coach said, made some big plays."
(on having his first start in Lambeau) "It felt good! It reminded me a lot of the old Nebraska with all the tradition; the fans are great here. I don't think there is a more intimidating place to play than Lambeau field."
Safety Todd Franz: (on his touchdown interception) "It was third and pretty short and we were in a loose coverage. I was the flat defender and when the number two receiver cut inside I thought the number three would come out so I tried to stay inside and bait the quarterback. I don't know how good his throw was but I had a break on it and took it in for the score."
Quarterback Doug Pederson: (on the offensive output as a whole) "There were a few things that we did well and a few we faltered on, the starters will probably say this wasn't good enough, this wasn't what we wanted. You can say this is preseason, you can say whatever. But come Atlanta, come opening weekend, these guys will be ready to play. I really liked the fact how we bounced back in this game, the defense helped us a ton. Overall this was a great team effort."
Fullback Chris Gall: (on his touchdown reception) "It was one of those fake power right, kind of slide it back plays, and when I came open in the flat I turned it up and got a great block from David Martin. And then with Fergie (Robert Ferguson) down in the end zone he threw another great block - it just really made things go for me."
-Monday night's victory was the Packers' 12th consecutive win in the Bishop's Charities series, improving their record to 24-17-1 in the 42-year history of the charity contest.
-It also was the Packers' third win in five preseason appearances on ABC's "Monday Night Football."
-With this year's Packers contribution, the Bishop's Charities series has raised more than $2,750,000 for the numerous charities of the Green Bay Diocese.
-Chris Gall (offense) and Darren Sharper (defense) were chosen the game's most valuable players by vote of the media.
-Wide receiver Javon Walker, the Packers' first-round draft selection, made his first start and also debuted as a kickoff returner, averaging 26.5 yards for 2 runbacks in the latter specialty. His first effort, a 36-yard runback of the second half kickoff, led to Ryan Longwell's second field goal of the night.
-Walker started for Terry Glenn and Donald Driver for Robert Ferguson at the other wide receiver position while, on defense, Erwin Swiney started for Mike McKenzie and Bhawoh Jue for Tyrone Williams at cornerback.
-Walker shares - with Charles Lee - the team lead in receiving. Each has made 7 receptions.
-Doug Pederson ranks second among NFC passers after three preseason games with a rating of 114.6, based on 19 completions in 28 attempts, a 67.9 completion percentage, for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns - without an interception.
-Placekicker Ryan Longwell is still "perfect" after three preseason games, having made all 6 field goals and the 7 conversions he has attempted.
-Rookie Najeh Davenport, like Walker, made his debut returning kickoffs and was effective, averaging 23.7 yards for 3 runbacks, his production including a 38-yard return.
-Tony Fisher, the impressive rookie from Notre Dame, continues to lead the Packers in preseason rushing with 102 yards in 19 carries, a 5.4-yard average.
-Rookie Erwin Swiney, who has exhibited a penchant for the big play, shot through on a first quarter blitz to fell Cleveland quarterback Tim Couch for an 11-yard loss.
-Ten Packers did not dress for Monday night's game because of injury or rehab concerns: They included defensive backs Keith Thibodeaux (finger), Darrien Gordon (hamstring), Tod McBride (hamstring), Seneca McMillan (groin), Mike McKenzie (calf), Tyrone Williams (groin), Hurley Tarver (hamstring), running back Herbert "Whisper" Goodman, center Mike Flanagan (finger) and offensive tackle Earl Dotson (knee).
Wide receiver Terry Glenn dressed but did not play, along with quarterback Marcus Brady, wide receivers Andy McCullough and Brian Haugabrook, running backs Ki-Jana Carter and Jason Brookins, linebacker Anthony Sessions, defensive tackle John Gilmore, and tackle/guard Tim Stuber.
-Hardy Nickerson Jr., son of the Packers' linebacker, made his formal football debut during a Pop Warner League exhibition at halftime of Monday night's game. Hardy Jr., a defensive end, was playing for the Allouez Kiwanis "Bulldogs" of the East River Pop Warner League against Duck Creek.
-LeRoy Butler, who retired in July after a distinguished, 11-year Packers career, was on the Green Bay sideline Monday night to cheer on his former colleagues.
-Pro basketball immortal Bill Russell, a childhood idol of Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman, also was in evidence during Monday night's game. At the coach's invitation, Russell spoke to the Packers team Sunday night, impressing upon the players the importance of professionalism in their approach to the game.
-Frank Winters (offense), Hardy Nickerson (defense) and Rob Davis (special teams) were Packers captains for the third straight game.