It apparently is more difficult to plan an NFL game on a CFL field than one would think, as fans of the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders saw prior to Thursday’s game in Winnipeg. There were major problems in the end zones at the location where the CFL goal posts would normally be mounted; the holes in those spots were not filled in sufficiently, leading to much discussion by all interested parties before the game.
After that chaotic pregame sequence, the two franchises elected to play on — but with major rules changes. The goal lines were moved up to the ten-yard lines and kickoffs were eliminated, with the ball being spotted at the 25 instead. The Packers, not wanting to risk any significant injuries to critical players, sat the entire starting lineup down, as 33 players were shut down for the evening.
That game saw the Packers’ second-string units jump out to a nice halftime lead, thanks largely to the play of wide receiver Trevor Davis. However, Green Bay’s third-string units faltered in the second half as Oakland came back for a 22-21 victory.
Once the “game” got underway, Tim Boyle got the start in place of Aaron Rodgers, taking the first snap of the game from the 25. Boyle struggled early, missing badly on a handful of deep balls. Boyle’s best throw was to Trevor Davis up the middle, but even that throw was a touch underthrown and Davis could not haul it in after a Raiders corner tracked him down from behind.
As for Davis, the fourth-year receiver made his preseason debut. After a 17-yard punt return to begin his day, his first touch on offense was impressive, an 18-yard gain on an end-around up the left side of the line, but his inability to haul in that contested deep ball was a significant missed opportunity. Still, he had a step on the cornerback assigned to him in coverage on that play before he had to slow down to track the football. Late in the first quarter, however, he made a great diving catch on a 20-yard gain from Boyle.
After the teams traded a few punts and the Raiders connected on a 42-yard field goal, Davis capped off his impressive early performance with a score. After Boyle converted a third-and-11 on a great throw to Robert Tonyan out of the slot, he lofted a ball to Davis for a 13-yard touchdown. Davis made a great leaping catch over cornerback Nick Nelson to haul in the score, giving the Packers a 7-3 lead.
The defense gave that lead back, with poor tackling rearing its ugly head again. Linebacker Curtis Bolton left the field with an injury on the ensuing drive, forcing James Crawford into the lineup as the Will linebacker; Crawford then missed a tackle on fullback Keith Ford, who caught a pass in the flat and rumbled for a five-yard score.
However, Boyle appeared to have settled in at that point. After a rough start with several poorly-thrown deep balls, he drove the Packers down the field for a second straight series, finding the other Mr. August in the Packers’ receiving corps to take the lead back. Jake Kumerow hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass after turning Nick Nelson in knots to get free up the left sideline, and Boyle hit him with a perfect throw for the score. Running back Tra Carson added a short touchdown run just before the end of the first half to extend the lead to 21-10, as Boyle finished his day at halftime going 16-for-25 for 191 yards and two scores.
The second quarter saw the Packers lose a trio of key contributors to injuries, however. Top draft pick Rashan Gary went down while making a tackle, seemingly suffering a neck or head injury and heading to the locker room. Undrafted rookie linebacker Curtis Bolton, who appeared to be in line to start in place of Oren Burks, left the field as well, and he was later spotted on crutches wearing a knee brace. Then late in the first half, second-year wideout Equanimeous St. Brown took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Raiders safety Erik Harris. St. Brown was hauling in a pass over the middle when he took the hit, and he remained down on the turf for several minutes. However, when he got up, the injury seemed to be to his left ankle, as his left shoe was off and he was unable to put any weight on that leg.
DeShone Kizer’s performance in the second half started off rough, though through no real fault of his own. Despite the Packers’ offensive line giving their quarterbacks plenty of time in the first two and a half games, Kizer was sacked twice on his opening series and a third time on fourth down on his second, the last one due to a bad protection by running back Keith Ford.
Kizer had some very nice throws in the fourth quarter, though unfortunately two of his best were erased. He had one excellent throw on the run to Darrius Shepherd up the sideline, and despite a great catch by Shepherd, the play was wiped out by a holding penalty. On the next play, a third-and-forever, Kizer fit the football in an extremely tight window to Allen Lazard, who nearly made a terrific catch but took a hit and stayed down on the field for a bit, only adding to the Packers’ injury woes.
All told, however, the second half was mostly forgettable for the Packers as the third teams battled it out late. A field goal by the Raiders’ Daniel Carlson early in the third quarter pulled Oakland within eight points at 21-13, but the Packers allowed a touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter. Nathan Peterman found De’Mornay Pierson-El with Sullivan in coverage for a score, but the Packers were able to deny a potential tying two-point conversion attempt. The Packers blitzed up the middle on the try, forcing Peterman to scramble, and his pass attempt was tipped and intercepted by Brady Sheldon to preserve a 21-19 Packers lead.
However, after the sequence that saw Kizer’s pass to Lazard fall incomplete, the Packers punted away to Oakland with just over two minutes remaining. A big hit by Sheldon on the opening play of the drive ended with a personal foul flag for leading with the helmet, and a Peterman fourth down conversion put Oakland in position for a winning field goal with just seconds left.
The Packers will wrap up the preseason next Thursday at Lambeau Field against the Kansas City Chiefs.