GREEN BAY – Not long after the misery subsided, and Brett Hundley’s season from hell was over, the Green Bay Packers quarterback locked himself in the film room.
He could’ve burned that 2017 tape. There weren’t many positives to build on. By his own head coach’s admission, Hundley was caught unprepared for the opportunity when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone.
Instead, Hundley said, he retraced each painful mistake, intent to learn from them.
“Having actual game footage,” Hundley said, “you can pick apart certain things. Now, when you’re out there training, understand the reads, the looks and stuff like that, because you’ve been through it.”
In the Packers’ 31-17 exhibition win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, Hundley appeared to put into practice some of the lessons he saw on tape this offseason. He finished 9-for-14 for 108 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a 81.9 rating before his night ended with a little more than four minutes left in the second quarter.
If DeShone Kizer was expected to walk away with the backup quarterback job after the Packers traded for him last spring, Hundley showed he’s at least ready to put up a fight. One of the things he undoubtedly noticed from last season’s game film was a tendency to almost robotically roll to his right when the pocket broke down.
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BOX SCORE: Packers 31, Titans 17
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Perhaps his most impressive play of the night, then, was a rollout left where Hundley set his feet and threaded a pass over one Titans defender and between two others for 13 yards to rookie Equanimeous St. Brown.
“I think for me this year, the anticipation,” Hundley said, “it’s the understanding, it’s the game slowing down. So things are a lot easier. I just feel calmer back there. I feel more in control and it showed today. I just hope to keep progressing.”
Added coach Mike McCarthy: “I thought clearly his tempo was the best of the three quarterbacks.”
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) pulls down a 48-yard reception against Tennessee Titans defensive back Malcolm Butler in the first quarter during their football game Thursday, August 9, 2018, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. (Photo: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
The big play came in the Packers’ opening drive. Hundley connected with receiver Davante Adams — one of the few key starters who played Thursday — in stride for a 48-yard reception down the left side, beating Titans prized free-agent cornerback Malcolm Butler. Adams’ catch gave the Packers a first-and-goal, and they scored three plays later with an 8-yard pass from Hundley to running back Jamaal Williams.
Hundley’s pass to Adams was reminiscent of a 42-yard connection between the two down the right sideline late at Chicago last season. Otherwise, those kind of big plays were rare.
“That’s what this game’s all about,” McCarthy told the Packers’ television broadcast before the second half. “You’ve got to hit your big plays.”
It wasn’t a perfect night for Hundley. One of his primary struggles last season was an inability to feel the rush, leading to costly turnovers. On a pair of protection breakdowns, Hundley failed to get rid of the football cleanly.
The first came when Titans first-round rookie outside linebacker Harold Landry beat Packers backup left tackle Kyle Murphy around the edge. Landry got to Hundley quickly, forcing a fumble left guard Lucas Patrick recovered. On the second, Titans edge rusher Gimel President beat Packers right tackle Byron Bell and hit Hundley as he released his pass, leading to an interception.
Hundley did not shoulder the primary responsibility for either play. Indeed, the Packers should hope starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga are ready for Week 1 against the Bears, because their backups struggled mightily. But part of a quarterback’s job is to limit damage when plays break down, and two poor protections led to a fumble and interception.
Kizer showed a good example of making a positive play out of a protection breakdown after replacing Hundley late in the first half. Coming out of the two-minute warning, Titans outside linebacker Aaron Wallace beat Murphy. He was in the backfield as quick as Landry got to Hundley, but Kizer made Wallace miss and ran for 5 yards to give the Packers a second-and-5 instead of a first-down sack.
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The play extended a drive into field goal range that otherwise could have stalled.
“They got us,” Kizer said. “The defense is going to get you at times, and you’ve got to make sure you can use your feet and use the tools that you have to get out of it, whether it be checkdowns or scramble rules or taking off yourself. That was a situation where you’re required to go, continue the drive and continue positive yards, and we were able to do so.
“It’s important to make sure you create as many positive plays as possible. Not only for yourself, but to get the momentum rolling for other guys. It gets their confidence up, too.”
Kizer flashed his athleticism throughout his Packers debut. While Hundley has been reluctant at times to tuck and pick up yards with his legs, Kizer rushed three times for 18 yards.
As a passer, Kizer finished 9-for-18 for 134 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a 74.8 rating.
Kizer showed good arm strength but was also erratic, never more so than on an incomplete fade route to receiver Geronimo Allison on second-and-goal from the 4-yard line before halftime. Kizer had a touchdown if he hit Allison’s back, right shoulder, a throw Aaron Rodgers makes better than anyone. His pass instead drifted to Allison’s front, left shoulder, where cornerback LeShaun Sims had a chance at an interception.
Sims couldn’t get to the ball, but Kizer’s wayward pass took points off the board.
In effect, Kizer got one quarter before fourth-string quarterback Tim Boyle replaced him with more than five minutes left in the third. Kizer said McCarthy’s plan was to give him and Hundley roughly 20 to 25 snaps apiece. He only got two possessions, but they went for 16 and 14 plays, respectively. Hundley got 21 snaps.
Boyle, who has impressed with his arm strength in camp but has also struggled with accuracy, finished 7-for-15 for 130 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 116.7 rating. His first scoring pass was for 15 yards to rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had a breakout night with five receptions for 101 yards, including a 51-yard reception from Kizer. His second went to Jake Kumerow for a 52-yard TD.
For Kumerow, who has drawn rave reviews from Rodgers, it was the continuation of a strong camp.
“Not a lot of people know that he’s all of 6-4,” Boyle said. “He’s a tall guy, he’s built, he’s strong. He understands routes and defenses, so he can get into those little windows that a lot of people have a hard time finding.
“He’s a great receiver. He’s got a knack for the ball and he’s done great for us. Aaron’s hit the nail on the head when he said he’s doing a great job for us.”
As expected, the Titans played mostly vanilla defense in their debut with new head coach Mike Vrabel. That alone can make all the difference for quarterbacks. Hundley, especially, has excelled at times in the preseason during his career, only to struggle last fall. But in the first significant step foward in the Packers quarterback battle, Hundley and Kizer left with plenty to feel good about.
Even if both also put plays on film they’ll need to learn from.
“It will only get better from here,” Hundley said.
Aaron Nagler and Pete Dougherty give their initial impressions from the Packers 31-17 preseason victory over the Tennessee Titans.
USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin