It was sunny and 72 at 1265 Lombardi Avenue as the Green Bay Packers kicked off their 2021 preseason slate against the Houston Texans on Saturday. And, even though the Texans beat the Packers 26-7, I think most people were just happy that football is finally back in our lives again.
Historically, the preseason isn’t the most exciting time of the year for NFL fans, however, all eyes were on the Packers Saturday as quarterback Jordan Love suited up in the green and gold for the first time since he was drafted in 2020. After a whole season of waiting and a drama-filled offseason, the Packers didn’t make Love wait an extra moment to make his debut after winning the coin toss and electing to receive to get the night started.
It wasn’t a fairytale first drive for Love, but he still appeared calm and collected. The former Utah State quarterback hit two of his receivers on back-to-back pass plays before throwing a risky incomplete pass over the middle to rookie wide receiver Amari Rodgers on third down, forcing the Packers to punt.
The Texans on the other hand, came out with what appeared to be a very clear plan: target cornerback Josh Jackson.
On their first drive, Houston quarterback Tyrod Taylor targeted Jackson three times and completed all three passes in his direction. As a result, Houston moved down the field with ease after 11 plays for 53 yards before settling for a 37-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Green Bay linebacker Oren Burks was a clear standout on the defense’s opening drive, plugging the run on multiple occasions and making his presence known.
On their second drive, the Packers’ offense went three and out again, still struggling to find a good rhythm. Then, Green Bay’s special teams gave Packers fans across the world some flashbacks to the 2020 season after they allowed a 43-yard punt return that gave the Texans great field position.
Burks, however, continued to shine. He sacked Houston’s rookie quarterback Davis Mills on second down and, after that, the Texans couldn’t recover and were forced to punt.
From there, Love finally took control of the Packers’ offense. He completed a beautiful 34-yard pass to tight end Jace Sternberger to put Green Bay at mid-field. Then, he connected with wide receivers Malik Taylor and Devin Funchess for back-to back first downs to put Green Bay at Houston’s 22.
To kick off the second quarter, Love connected with rookie running back Kylin Hill off a screen pass and he took it 22 yards to the house for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead for Green Bay.
After that, both teams struggled to find the end zone for a bit. Houston went three and out after Green Bay’s touchdown and, on their next offensive drive, the Packers turned it over on downs after failing to convert on fourth down.
As a result, Houston got decent field position (once again) and drove 42 yards down the field in just two minutes before running back Scottie Phillips rushed for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Texans a 10-7 lead. From there, Houston took control and never looked back.
After forcing the Packers to punt again, the Texans went on a 6:04 drive that consisted of 17 plays for 71 yards. Just when it looked like they were about to find the endzone, Green Bay’s defense came up clutch with back-to-back near goal line stops from Jackson and safety Vernon Scott to force Houston to settle for a 25-yard field goal, extending their lead to 13-7 at the half.
Jordan Love only played the first half of this week’s matchup, so Packer fans then had the opportunity to see former University of Virginia quarterback (and Packers Twitter icon!) Kurt Benkert suit up for Green Bay in the second half.
After failing to make anything of their first drive of the second half, Houston was quickly forced to punt and give Benkert and Green Bay an early shot at a comeback. Benkert came out slinging, throwing 18-yard, 12-yard and 21-yard passes consecutively but his momentum was short-lived after he fumbled a handoff and Houston recovered.
The Texans capitalized on yet another gift of field position from the Packers, extending their lead to 16-7 after drilling a 41-yard field goal.
While Houston was finding success with field goals, the Packers struggled to find anything at all, failing to score any additional points for the remainder of the night.
Later in the game, Green Bay couldn’t convert on another fourth down play and, as they did all night long, Houston took advantage of the turnover and hit a 42-yard field goal to take an even larger lead.
With about six minutes left in the game and still nothing from Green Bay, Houston running back Darius Jackson rushed for a 25-yard touchdown to give us our final score of 26-7.
What we learned: It still isn’t clicking for Josh Jackson
For the last few seasons, it seems like we’ve all been waiting for Josh Jackson to finally emerge and make a big impact for the Packers. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case and his performance Saturday night showed little signs of progress. This preseason was a huge opportunity for him to prove himself and, from the looks of it, his roster spot looks like it’s in jeopardy.
Although he’s been a difference maker on special teams, Green Bay certainly wants more from him defensively than what they’ve been getting.
What went right: Devin Funchess
After opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, Devin Funchess looked strong in his debut for the Packers on Saturday. He led the team in receiving with 6 receptions for 70 yards (ESPN stats) and looked comfortable on multiple occasions for Green Bay. He was certainly Love’s favorite target and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was pumped up on the sidelines after Funchess made a couple of great plays.
While the top three wide receiver spots are pretty much solidified for the Packers, Funchess could bring some great versatility and depth to the wideout room if he can stay healthy and continue to perform at a high level.
What went wrong: Special teams
New year, same special teams. I know it was a preseason game, but watching the Packers give up significant yardages on punt returns all night was painful. That issue was something I’d hoped Green Bay left in 2020 and they can’t afford to lose the special teams battle week after week again in 2021.
Let’s hope something clicks before week one in New Orleans.
Offensive MVP: Jordan Love
After a whirlwind offseason and probably what felt like the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jordan Love did exactly what was asked of him in his NFL debut. He finished the day 12/17 for 122 yards, 1 TD and with a 110.4 passer rating (ESPN stats). In an interview with Packers TV Network, Rodgers mentioned that on the throws where Love was hitting his footwork he looked “efficient” and that he was impressed with the way he handled himself.
Defensive MVP: Oren Burks
Oren Burks stood out the most to me on defense Saturday night, stopping several run plays and looking strong and healthy. He led the team with 7 total tackles, 5 of which were solo and 2 for a loss, as well as the Packers lone sack of the night (ESPN stats).
Similar to Jackson, Burks is a player a lot of Packers fans have been waiting for to breakthrough, and, if he can keep up what he did on Saturday, this might finally be the year for him.
Up next, the Green Bay Packers get a visit from the New York Jets for week two of preseason. Kickoff is set for Saturday, August 21 at 4:25 p.m. EST at Lambeau Field.
Sarah Kelliher is a contributor for CheeseheadTV and a podcaster with Pack-A-Day Podcast. She can be found via Twitter @sarahkelliher4.