The Sports Xchange

Dear Vince: Packers disagree that "Winning is the only thing"

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' insignificant streak of not winning their first preseason game is now five years long.

As proof that the final score really doesn't matter in August, coach Mike McCarthy came away from his team's 20-16 road defeat to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night with a winning feeling.

"Clearly, to me, it's probably one of the best preseason games that I've ever been a part of, just because it was a training environment that you can't create," McCarthy said Monday.

Players and hardy fans alike were drenched by heavy rain that fell on Nashville's LP Field from the start of play.

That resulted in a deluge of miscues on both sides. The teams officially combined for eight fumbles.

Green Bay put the football on the ground six times, including four mishandled kick returns (three were counted on the stat sheet) and two fumbles by quarterbacks.

"We're probably like everybody else in football -- you do wet-ball drills and you do those types of things throughout training camp, we've even gone back and done it in the offseason program -- but to be able to play under those circumstances, it hits you, it hits every part of your operation," McCarthy said of the inclement conditions.

"The (coaches') headsets went down; it was a constant problem throughout the game. We had players that were making calls on the field, checks on the field. So, those are things that you coach. You try to create that in practice, but to have the real thing like that ... handling the football, obviously, tackling, the footwork, the ability to play with balance, it was a great opportunity."

McCarthy and his staff gave plenty of opportunities for their young players to get their feet wet, literally, on the waterlogged turf Saturday.

For the first time in his seven years as the team's starting quarterback, Aaron Rodgers didn't play a preseason opener. Rodgers missed an exhibition game only two other times since 2008, in the preseason finales in 2010 and last year.

McCarthy also sat down top halfback Eddie Lacy and star wideout Jordy Nelson. While Rodgers and Lacy were healthy scratches, McCarthy revealed Monday that Nelson was hindered by a hamstring injury since late last week. Nelson didn't practice Monday but is considered day-to-day this week.

Without Lacy, last year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Packers still were potent running the football despite the slippery track. They rushed for 146 yards.

James Starks, an effective understudy for Lacy last season, led the ground assault with six carries for 49 yards, good for a gaudy average of 8.2 yards per carry. All of Starks' production came in the game-opening series, which culminated with back-to-back runs of 11 and 20 yards, the latter into the end zone.

"(He) just picked up where he left off last year," McCarthy said of Starks, who rushed for 522 yards (including the playoffs) and more than 5.5 yards per carry last season. "I thought James looked like he was in midseason form. The first drive was impressive. That's what we wanted to accomplish in the first drive -- running the football -- and we were able to do that. Obviously, James was excellent."

Undrafted rookie Rajion Neal also gained favor from McCarthy. Neal, a two-year starting tailback at the University of Tennessee, was almost Starks' match later in the game with an average of 7.8 yards per rush with 39 yards on five carries, highlighted by runs of 15 and 12 yards (for a touchdown) in a third-quarter drive.

"I thought he ran strong," McCarthy said. "Obviously, you liked the finish on the touchdown run. I thought he played very well."

Neal, however, sustained a knee injury on a kickoff return late in the game and didn't practice Monday.