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Sam Farmer ON THE NFL

Packers, Rodgers stay in shadow

August 17, 2008|Sam Farmer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brett Favre's old understudy gave a heck of a performance in Saturday's exhibition game between San Francisco and Green Bay.

That's 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan, who spent 11 games as a Packers third-stringer in 2004 whose playing time there consisted of once taking a knee.

As for Aaron Rodgers?

He's still living in the long, chilly shadow of a Packers legend.

A few hours after Favre made his debut with the New York Jet -- "Absolutely Favre-ulous" gushed the NFL.com headline after his five-for-six, one-touchdown showing -- Rodgers struggled through two frustrating quarters at Candlestick Park.

Of course, he could have used some help from his teammates. He was sacked four times, had to one-hand a couple of high shotgun snaps, and watched a couple of crisp passes clank off the hands of seasoned teammates Donald Driver and Donald Lee. Driver's drop would have been for a long gain; Lee's came in the end zone.

"I'm disappointed," Rodgers said after the 34-6 defeat in which he completed nine of 16 for 58 yards. "We didn't play very well tonight, didn't get into a rhythm, made a lot of mistakes. We're going to have to clean it up on the film. I'm not worried, but I think we took a little bit of a step back tonight."

Whereas O'Sullivan offset an interception with two touchdown drives -- including a 59-yard touchdown pass at the end of the half -- Rodgers directed an offense that was outgained before the half, 233-46. Toss out an interception by Charles Woodson that gave the Packers the ball on San Francisco's seven-yard line, and Green Bay's offense never drove past its own 38.

Some of the Packers' problems stemmed from inexperience at the guard spots. The team has fixtures at offensive tackle, with Chad Clifton on the left and Mark Tauscher on the right, but the line's interior is a fluid work in progress. That probably led to communication problems and breakdowns in protection, resulting in Rodgers throwing on the run or winding up on his back.

"We're going to be very honest about this film," Rodgers said. "[Today] we're going to watch it, probably as a team, and get better. We have no choice. We didn't put on a very good performance tonight."

No other NFL quarterback is under the same type of pressure as Rodgers, who some Packers fans evidently think is responsible for Favre's departure. He recently said he can't get over the fact that some in Green Bay -- kids, even -- cuss at him when they meet.

The reality is, Favre and the Packers parted ways by mutual agreement. Rodgers stayed out of that mess. Regardless, the weight of expectation rests on his shoulder pads -- and this is a team that advanced to the NFC championship game last season.

For Rodgers, who grew up a fan of the 49ers, this was the first time he played on this field. His family and friends were in the stands, and he even had some buddies with him on the sideline.

Across the field from him was quarterback Alex Smith, who was selected first overall by San Francisco in 2005, the year Rodgers waited nearly five hours before the Packers took him 24th. The two players met at midfield after the game and spoke briefly, each facing his own challenge.

For the moment, Smith seems to have lost his starting job to O'Sullivan, who completed eight of 17 passes for 154 yards. It was far from an error-free night for O'Sullivan, but it was good enough to impress his coaches.

"It reinforces what I thought about him, and that's real key," said Coach Mike Nolan, whose team looks to be picking up the nuances of coordinator Mike Martz's offense. The 34 points were the most scored by the 49ers in an exhibition game since a 35-17 victory over Denver in 1989.

For Green Bay, meanwhile, there is some serious work to do.

"We've got a long flight home," Coach Mike McCarthy said. "We'll have the offense graded before we hit the Rocky Mountains."

From the look of things, a comfortable cruising altitude could take a while.

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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