Undermined by the turnover and thwarted by a tightfisted Carolina defense, the Packers found the combination a little too much to overcome in falling to the Panthers, 20-7, in their maiden Lambeau Field appearance of the new season.
Although the visitors failed to capitalize on the opportunities, three first quarter turnovers - a lost fumble and a pair of interceptions - conspired to help keep the Packers scoreless prior to the intermission - along with a holding penalty on William Henderson which wiped out a 47-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell in the closing seconds of the second quarter. Mike Sherman subsequently decided not to have Longwell essay a 57-yard field goal. He called, instead, for a punt and the principals shortly headed to their respective locker rooms in a 0-0 deadlock.
Under these rare circumstances - the Packers have seldom gone scoreless in either half of a game during the "Brett Favre Era," the first half highlight turned out to be a stirring goal-line stand by Green Bay's first defensive unit, inspired by the injured Gilbert Brown, an explosive force on this occasion despite a torn right biceps. More on that later.
The Panthers ended the scoring drought at the start of the third quarter, when the elusive Michael Bates returned the second half kickoff 51 yards to the Green Bay 35-yard line. Four plays later, Carolina placekicker John Kasay delivered a 26-yard field goal to send the Panthers up, 3-0.
At this juncture, the Packers moved out front for the only time in the evening, winging 76 yards in 7 plays for the go-ahead touchdown. Favre set the stage with 18- and 10-yard passes to Javon Walker and Donald Driver, respectively, putting Green Bay on Carolina's 45-yard line.
Ahman Green, whose longest previous run of the evening had been a 9-yarder, did the rest. Exploding over right guard behind a bristling block by fullback Nick Luchey, he streaked 45 yards to the end zone untouched. Ryan Longwell's conversion, which closed out the Packers' scoring, gave the Packers a 7-3 lead.
The Panthers retaliated with a march of their own, a 51-yard drive capped by a 42-yard Shawn Graham field goal, paring the Packers' lead to 7-6.
The next time the visitors acquired the football, with Chris Weinke at quarterback, they moved into the lead for good, Weinke finishing off a 10-play, 65-yard drive with an 11-yard pass to rookie wideout Walker Young in the left corner of the end zone.
The final score of the evening, a somewhat anti-climactic happening, came with only 56 seconds to play - on Carolina cornerback William Hampton's 30-yard scoring return of an interception off an Akili Smith pass.
Getting back to the memorable goal-line stand, it developed after Carolina, taking over at the Green Bay 34 following Michael Rucker's recovery of a William Henderson first quarter fumble, drove to a first down at the 1-yard line in 4 plays.
Four times thereafter, the Panthers projected running back Stephen Davis at the Packers' defensive front - and four times the 6-foot, 230-pound Davis was hurled back by Brown, Hannibal Navies, Chukie Nwokorie, Antuan Edwards and Nick Barnett, ultimately ending up precisely where he had started - at the one-yard line, where the Packers took over on downs.
Favre, in one of his lesser outings, completed 18 of 29 passes for 116 yards, with 2 interceptions. Akili Smith, the third of Green Bay's four quarterbacks to enter the game, had 3 completions in 12 attempts for 30 yards, with one interception. Craig Nall was 0-for-3 and veteran Doug Pederson did not attempt a pass during his third quarter appearance.
GM/HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN'S POST-GAME COMMENTS:
(on Marco Rivera's injury) "Marco, it's not as bad as we originally thought, but it is still serious. It's an MCL sprain. We will not know the magnitude of it until we get a MRI, but the doctors say there could be a chance he could be ready for the Minnesota game, believe it or not, and there is also a chance that he couldn't, based on the severity of the injury obviously, but at this point we really do not know. So tomorrow when he has his MRI we will have a clearer picture of where he is."
(on Gilbert Brown's performance) "Well he certainly showed up on our goal line stand and solidified the middle. I thought he did a nice job of keeping people off our linebackers. I thought our linebackers did a real nice job - Nick Barnett, Wilkins, Hannibal Navies - I thought did a nice job for us and made a number of plays and in order for them to do it, someone has to be doing a pretty good job for us up front. I thought Rod Walker made a couple of plays for us and he has not been out there very often. Gilbert came through and is icing down his bicep at this time, but says he feels fine. We have another preseason game and a couple more practices to determine that."
(on whether Gilbert did his job) "I have to watch the tape to really see all that he did. It seemed like he did his job from my advantage point of the sideline, but I really want to have the courtesy of watching the tape to decide should he or shouldn't he."
(on encouraging and discouraging points of game) "Well after last week, our defense was put in adverse position when the offense turned the ball over in three of the first four possessions. The defense did a fantastic job of keeping them out of the end zone. Fourteen for 22 yards when they were in there, the great goal-line stand, the 0-6 on third down conversions against the ones (Panthers' first team), the interception by Al Harris was encouraging. When I look at the first defense, they did a nice job. They earned their meal ticket for the next week anyway. Offensively, we were 7-12 on third downs, 58 percent was encouraging. We had a key drive to start the second half, 76 yards was encouraging, and our tackles holding up against their pretty damn good rushers they have. They are a very, very good defensive team and our tackles did a nice job of not allowing our quarterback to get sacked. That was really a test I was holding my breath on, and our tackles did a really nice job there. Discouraging, was the three out of four turnovers on the first four possessions offensively. I did not have too many discouraging (thoughts) on the defense all night. I thought they did a nice job. Our second half offense group was terrible. They could not crack an egg out there. We were five three-and-outs after the Ahman Green touchdown. The second group couldn't do anything and they are normally pretty good, but not tonight. Defensively, we were OK with the second group. Let up a couple of field goals and the interception for the touchdown. Not very good overall by anyone the second half but I have to watch the tape for that."
(on Darren Sharper's injury) "He strained his groin. It happened early in the game on Davis' run. He chased him down and felt a tweak in his groin." He was more concerned about it on the field, but when I approached him in the locker room a few minutes ago he said it feels great. He's been icing it down and though it feels better. He didn't seem overly concerned but it is a strained groin.
(on the injuries) "Jacoby Shepherd tore a ligament in his thumb. Najeh Davenport strained a hamstring. Craig Nall bruised his hand; I believe someone stepped on his hand. We X-rayed that and he is fine."
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIVE:
Quarterback Brett Favre: (on the offense) "Three turnovers are not good. We can't have that. I don't care who we're playing."
"We were good on third down, which is crucial to the success of our offense, so that was encouraging. Green's touchdown run was well blocked. That was good to see. But I would have liked to see things click a bit better.
"We need to work on a few things, but we'll get it taken care of."
(on the Panthers' defense) "They have an excellent defense, so I give them a lot of credit. They're tough. They were second in the league last year and they're going to be every bit as good this year, too.
"We definitely made mistakes, though. We hurt ourselves."
Nose tackle Gilbert Brown: (general) "It was great to get out there and have fun again."
(on the arm) "It's still a little sore, but we all expected that. We'll see how it goes, see how it feels tomorrow."
(on the defensive stand) "It was a great stop on our part, with our backs against the wall. That really got the juices flowing. Everybody stepped up to the challenge."
(on testing the arm against Carolina specifically) "That was the plan. They have a lot of big guys up front and some big backs. We wanted to test it tonight."
(on his rehab) "We're going to lift some weights, ice it some more and do whatever we can to keep it strong."
(on being an inspiration to his team) "Well, I don't want to sound like a sissy or anything, but I love these guys in here, and I'm sure they love me. It's a special place."
Linebacker Nick Barnett: (on goal-line stand) "That was an exciting goal-line stand. Our fans were into it, we were into it, so that showed a lot."
(on Lambeau Field atmosphere) "It's exciting, electrifying. It reminds me a lot of Corvallis (home of Oregon State), how the fans are really excited just to be out there."
Center Mike Flanagan: (on renovated Lambeau Field) "I think it's been amplified. This is still storied Lambeau Field, this isn't just a new stadium that was built for a team and an owner to generate new money. This is still Lambeau Field, this is still the Green Bay Packers, it's just that now all of a sudden it's been moved into the 28th century. This place is state of the art and it's a great place."
(on Marco Rivera) "If there's any way Marco can play, he'll play. He's one of the toughest guys in this game and if he can play, he can play and if not someone else will have to do the job."
(on Ahman Green) "Ahman is always something special. Even when he's banged up he's something special. He's going to give you everything he's got every play, that's why it's so much fun to block for him."
Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila: (on Gilbert Brown) "It was awesome just to be able to see him do everything. He got to play a little bit, he did a little 'Gravedigger' deal, so he played a complete game to me. It was kind of cool. The way he gets the fans to respond, that's how he is to us. We look at him for leadership."
-Saturday night's defeat was the first home loss in preseason competition for Mike Sherman, who taken a 6-0 Lambeau Field record into action He now owns a 9-7-0 overall record in preseason play.
-Overall, Saturday night's loss was the first preseason defeat in Lambeau Field since Aug. 16, 1998, when the Oakland Raiders departed with a 27-21 victory.
-The loss to the Panthers also ended a four-game winning streak for the Packers in the Shrine series. The Packers' overall record in the series, launched in 1950, is 26 wins, 25 losses and 3 ties.
-With the Packers' contribution from the proceeds of Saturday night's contest, the Midwest Shrine Game series has raised more than $2.6 million for the Shrine's burn centers and hospitals for crippled children.
-The Packers were represented by six captains at the pre-game coin toss: Quarterback Brett Favre, center Frank Winters, tight end Wesley Walls, defensive end Joe Johnson, nose tackle Gilbert Brown and placekicker Ryan Longwell.
-There were two changes in the Packers' starting lineups: Robert Ferguson replaced Javon Walker at wide receiver on offense and Antuan Edwards stepping in for Marques Anderson at strong safety on defense.
-Edwards went on to lead the defense in tackles with 6 stops, 3 of them unassisted.
-Marques Anderson replaced the injured Darren Sharper early in the game and went the rest of the way at free safety.
-Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila registered his first sack of the preseason in the second quarter, felling quarterback Rodney Peete for a 5-yard loss.
-Ahman Green's 45-yard scoring run in the third quarter was the Packers' longest run from scrimmage of the season. The previous longest was a 15-yarder by Najeh Davenport, while Green's previous longest of the preseason was a 13-yard effort.
-Gilbert Brown played two of the first three defensive series, then retired to the bench for the balance of the evening, resting his injured right arm.
-Double Numbers: with a temporary shortage of jersey numbers, two Packers on offense shared numbers with two Packers on defense for Saturday night's game. Offensive tackle David Porter and defensive tackle Larry Smith wore the same number, 73, and offensive tackle Reggie Coleman and defensive end/tackle Cullen Jenkins shared a number, 75.