GREEN BAY – Preseason finales in the National Football League don’t get much better than this.
The 73,803 fans in Lambeau Field for the Packers-Chiefs exhibition contest on a near-perfect August evening witnessed a competitive contest featuring 47 total points, four turnovers, a 74-yard pick six, a quarterback high jump a defender, and a runaway fan get tackled by a Kansas City player.
This was not a boring affair, as most final preseason games are as NFL teams rest their top players and evaluate the rest with the NFL’s final 53-man roster cutdown looming Saturday.
Green Bay did not dress 36 players—18 on offense, 18 on defense—and Kansas City rested 39 players so they’d be healthy and ready for their respective regular-season openers. The Packers kick off the 2019 NFL season at Chicago Thursday night.
Head coach Matt LaFleur started his press conference out with a shout out to his team.
“Just want to praise the effort that our players have been giving all the way since we started this thing back in OTA’s and the offseason program,” said the first-year head coach. “Really pleased with the effort. Really love this group of guys, man. They came together, which is what we wanted them to do. I just can’t say enough about the character in that locker room.”
With the preseason and training camp now complete, LaFleur reflected on his offseason program.
“I think until you get out into the regular season, you never truly quite (know). . .” he said. “But I think we feel good about the preparation, the work that we put in. I think our guys have come together. They really understand what is being asked of them, the expectations, not only from schematics, but when you talk about the expectations of practice and how we’re going to practice and operate as a team.”
Green Bay certainly did not operate well at the start against Kansas City. With Aaron Rodgers on the sideline and Tim Boyle under center, the Packers punted twice in the first quarter as Kansas City ran 22 plays to the Packers nine.
Trailing 3-0 at the start of second quarter, the Packers defense ignited the team and the crowd with a pick-six touchdown.
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur was hit as he threw and his lame duck pass was intercepted by rookie inside linebacker Ty Summers, who raced down the right sideline untouched for a 74-yard touchdown. Veteran kicker Mason Crosby missed the extra point attempt and the Packers led 6-3.
The defense created another turnover two plays later, causing running back Marcus Marshall to fumble, which linebacker Markus Jones recovered at the Green Bay 34. Three plays later, Boyle hit rookie tight end Jake Sternberger with a two-yard scoring toss for a 13-3 lead.
DeShone Kizer then entered the game with just under seven minutes remaining in the first half.
He atoned for an interception that led to a Chiefs touchdown, which made it 13-10, with an efficient drive in the final three minutes, marching the Packers 81 yards in 12 plays. Big plays included three catches by Teo Redding for 31 yards, and Kizer capped the march with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Baylis with three seconds left for a 20-10 cushion.
Back came the Chiefs in a dominating third quarter.
Fourth-string quarterback Chase Litton led Kansas City on an impressive 16-play, 8:44 drive, culminating in a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nick Keizer to close within a field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, returner Darrius Shepherd coughed up the football and the Chiefs recovered at the Green Bay 26. Four plays later, kicker Harrison Butker blasted a 43-yard field goal to tie the game at 20.
In the fourth quarter, the Packers regained the lead, 27-20, on rookie Dexter Williams 6-yard touchdown burst, which capped a 10-play, 73-yard drive with 6:43 remaining. A highlight was quarterback Manny Wilkins’ highlight reel 12-yard run that set it up, as he leapt over would be Chiefs tackler Mark Fields.
LaFleur was impressed with the athleticism.
“He made him miss,” he said. “It was a heck of a play by Manny (Wilkins). You better make a guy miss if you’re going to do that. He did a tremendous job and I was happy to see that from him.”
A fan interrupted play as the teams lined up for the kickoff, as he ran approximately 60 yards down the middle of field before Kansas City safety Harold Jones-Quartey tackled him as police closed in. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was content to simply run the ball in the final two minutes and not try to tie the game and force overtime.
Now comes the most difficult part of a NFL head coach’s job.
“They played hard,” Reid said of his young players vying for a roster spot. “The toughest part about this job is that you have to cut some of these guys; they’re not all going to make the team. They gave great effort and they’ve done that the whole camp. I mentioned that to them. And then, whatever happens, happens. We’ll always stand by them and if they need recommendations at other places, we’re always there. They understand that and they busted their tail for it.”
LaFleur and his staff will be face with many difficult choices in finalizing the Packers roster, including if Kizer or Boyle will back-up Rodgers this season.