The ovation moved Aaron Rodgers to tears.
The Green Bay Packers fans showed their appreciation with the two-time NFL MVP about to take his first snaps at Lambeau Field in almost a year. Once he got behind center, Rodgers needed just one drive to look right at home back in Titletown.
Rodgers connected with tight end Jimmy Graham for an 8-yard score , and Tramon Williams had a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage of the Packers’ 51-34 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.
“The biggest thing, the goal tonight with Aaron in that first drive was to get the ball in the end zone,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “And I thought we did a nice job.”
The response from fans seemed just as meaningful to Rodgers.
He was 2 of 4 for 35 yards in his first game at Lambeau since Sept. 28. He broke his collarbone two weeks later at Minnesota, an injury that doomed the Packers in a 7-9 season.
“To be back at Lambeau was a thrill and the ovation touched me,” Rodgers said. “I have to kind of wipe away some tears in my eyes.”
Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger watched from the sideline in shorts and a T-shirt. He and second-stringer Landry Jones had already been ruled out for the game when Roethlisberger left a training camp practice on Tuesday with a possible concussion.
Big Ben looked just fine while chatting with Rodgers as they walked to their respective locker rooms at halftime. After the game, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger was out of the concussion protocol.
Sounds like he’ll be back at practice Saturday.
“He’s out of the protocol. He’s a full participant,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers got off to rough start after Mason Rudolph threw the interception returned by Williams.
But five minutes later, Rudolph found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 4-yard touchdown pass. Rudolph, who is competing with Joshua Dobbs for a backup job, was just 5 of 12 for 47 yards in playing the first half.
Dobbs didn’t look much better after throwing a 22-yard interception returned for a touchdown by rookie cornerback Josh Jackson in the third quarter.
“We’d just like to have those plays back, but the deal is you don’t get those plays back,” Tomlin said. “So, hopefully, there’s a learning process there in it for all of us.”
Dobbs finished strong and connected with rookie receiver James Washington for two second-half touchdowns . He was 12 of 17 for 192 yards.
GOING TO GRAHAM
Green Bay is always a threat in the NFC as long as Rodgers is healthy. This year, he has an intriguing option in the red zone in the 6-foot-7 Graham, who signed as a free agent in the offseason.
Rodgers drew the Steelers offside on third-and-10 from the 13 for a 5-yard penalty.
On the next play, he stood tall in the face of a rush before throwing a high pass into the middle of the end zone for Graham. He spiked the ball before heading into the stands for his first Lambeau Leap.
Besides Roethlisberger, the Steelers didn’t have two other stars. Receiver Antonio Brown sat out, while running back Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t signed his franchise tender.
But Smith-Schuster is picking up where he left off following a promising rookie year after scoring his second preseason TD. The score wrapped up a wild opening five minutes in which the Packers raced out to a 14-point lead before the Steelers scored two straight touchdowns.
Green Bay’s backups pulled away from there.
Second-string quarterback Brett Hundley was 6 of 9 for 77 yards. He also scored on a 10-yard run . Third-stringer DeShone Kizer connected with receiver Jake Kumerow for an 82-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
James Conner had a 26-yard touchdown run for the Steelers in the first quarter while the Packers still had many starters on the field. Washington scored on a 19-yard pass from Dobbs after turning and extending his arms past a defender to retrieve the ball.
“Every time he gets a rep, my eyes are on him. I’m just studying him each and every day, picking his brain, just trying to become a better receiver.” — Washington on watching Brown in practice.
Steelers: Backup C Patrick Morris left in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury.
Packers: RG Justin McCray (calf) and RB Jamaal Williams (ankle), both starters, left in the second quarter. … Kumerow left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.
There were no apparent displays of protest by players on either team during the national anthem.
Steelers: Host the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 25.
Packers: Visit the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 24.
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