There was no hurricane of confetti, no trip to Disney World and no champagne-soaked celebration awaiting Aaron Rodgers this time.
Six months later, he walked off a loser.
Still, there’s nothing like competition – and nothing like the NFL.
The Super Bowl MVP threw a touchdown pass before swapping his green-and-gold helmet for a baseball cap in the first quarter as the defending champion Green Bay Packers opened the preseason with a 27-17 loss Saturday night to Cleveland in the debut of new Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
”It felt good to finally be back out there,” Rodgers said. ”I missed being on the field. It was a long offseason. It was nice to get back out there and play another team.”
One day after they were honored in a ceremony at the White House, the Packers began their quest for a second straight Lombardi Trophy. Rodgers and most of Green Bay’s first-string offense played only two series in the first quarter, when both the Packers and Browns had long TD drives.
After establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks with his performance against Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, Rodgers was eager to get back under center following the lockout-lengthened offseason. He got off to a rough start, but finished 6 of 8 for 74 yards and threw a 21-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings.
Browns quarterback Colt McCoy outshined Rodgers.
McCoy, looking comfortable running Shurmur’s new West Coast offense, went 9 of 10 for 135 yards while playing three series. He threw a 27-yard TD pass to Josh Cribbs, and led Cleveland on a second scoring drive, capped by Peyton Hillis’ 3-yard scoring burst.
”It went pretty smooth,” said McCoy, whose night began with an ill-advised lateral. ”It was the first time Pat and I were on the headsets together. There were a lot of firsts tonight. But I thought the operation went well. I’ll be the first to tell you we’re nowhere where we need to be.”
While in Washington, the Packers presented President Obama – a die-hard fan of the Chicago Bears – with a personalized jersey and a certificate for a share in the team. Green Bay’s franchise is publicly owned, and more than 100,000 stockholders own shares in their beloved Pack.
Wall Street might be going wild, but the Packers are a sound investment.
With virtually the entire team back, Green Bay is favored to repeat as Super Bowl winners, something that hasn’t been done since New England (2004-05).
However, coach Mike McCarthy isn’t ready to be fitted for another ring just yet.
”It was great to be in live action,” he said. ”But we have a lot more to offer.”
Rodgers looked rusty on Green Bay’s first three plays. He threw two incompletions toward Jennings, and the Packers were forced to punt. But the second time around, Rodgers was on target.
Perhaps irritated the Browns scored so easily, the Packers went to the no-huddle, and Rodgers quickly moved them down the field. On a 1st-and-20 play, Rodgers stepped away from inside pressure by rolling right and found wide-open Donald Driver on a 31-yard gain to Cleveland’s 26. Two plays later, Rodgers fired a pass to Jennings, who pulled the ball away from Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown.
”I was talking to Greg on the sideline before that last drive and said, ‘Hey, let’s put this one in the end zone and take a break,”’ Rodgers said. ”Fortunately he made a great play on the ball and a great catch.”
Rodgers looked good.
McCoy looked even better.
The second-year QB, whom the Browns hope can finally end a decade-long search for an offensive leader, was pinpoint accurate and in control. He completed all four passes as the Browns drove for their first score – McCoy’s pass to Cribbs, the dynamic return man whose role in Shurmur’s offense is yet to be determined.
Cribbs streaked down the right sideline and hauled in McCoy’s pass over cornerback Pat Lee, who started in place of veteran Charles Woodson.
McCoy’s performance – his only incompletion was a batted-down pass at the line – must be comforting to Shurmur, the former St. Louis offensive coordinator. Earlier this week, Shurmur said he expected the matchup with the vaunted Packers to reveal ”we have a long way to go.”
Maybe not as far as he feared.
”There were a lot of good things that happened,” said Shurmur, who praised McCoy. ”It was good to see Colt go in there and move the ball. It looked like the game was moving slow for him, which is good. Colt’s a little bit of a gamer, and that’s right up his alley.”
Green Bay led 17-14 at halftime, scoring with 27 seconds left on Matt Flynn’s tipped 3-yard TD pass to tight end Spencer Havner.
The Browns broke a 17-all tie when linebacker Titus Brown scooped up a fumble and went 43 yards for a TD.
Notes: Browns rookie S Eric Hagg will undergo knee surgery Monday, Shurmur said. Also, WR Carlton Mitchell had surgery Friday after he got his finger stuck in a teammate’s jersey at practice. Both are expected back in a few weeks. … RB James Starks (ankle) was among the more prominent Packers to get hurt. TEs Andrew Quarless (groin) and Tom Crabtree (ribs) will be evaluated when the team gets home. … The Browns burned a timeout just 6 seconds in, and before the Packers’ first snap, when it appeared they had 12 men on defense. ”We tried to set a record,” Shurmur cracked.