Nelson emerging as one of NFL's elite receivers
He was one of the last players to emerge from the showers in the visiting Solider Field locker room. He pulled one sock on, tentatively. Then the other, painfully. Nine-year-old boys have gotten ready for morning school buses on Jan. 2 faster than Jordy Nelson got dressed after winning the NFC North championship.
On his Tuesday radio show, Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers revealed that Nelson was sick during the game against the Chicago Bears and throwing up on the bus ride home.
And yet Nelson seemed grateful for every Sunday night Week 17 ache and pain.
Even after that parting shot on fourth down where safety Major Wright put a lick on Nelson that knocked the receiver backward and sent the winning touchdown pass in the direction of Randall Cobb instead.
A year ago, Nelson was battling a hamstring injury midseason, an ankle injury after that and then an aggravated hamstring injury again in Week 13. It drove him nuts—he missed four full games—and he didn't need to say it. He wasn't around much to talk about it and when he was, he was terse in his answers.
Knee surgery sidelined him for most of training camp, but he kept fighting back. As quarterbacks and tight ends, teammates and friends dropped like flies around him, Nelson kept marching through the hills and the valleys of 2013, not once landing on the injury list.
Now he has 1,314 receiving yards, a career best, surpassing his 1,263 from the 2011 season.
“It's been great just to play every game. Numbers will happen if you get to play 16 of them,” said Nelson. “Last year was a struggle for multiple reasons—I never experienced that before. This year has been great, I've been healthy, haven't missed anything and knock on wood, hopefully it stays that way.
“It's been fun—it's been up and down—but it's been fun. It makes it that much more enjoyable now that we've made the playoffs.”
Nelson is 10th in the NFL in receiving yards, and his 22 catches of 20 yards or more are tied for fourth best.
He had a big day Sunday but was overshadowed by the return of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb. Nelson caught 10 passes for 161 yards, one shy of his career high of 162, and was targeted by Rodgers more than anyone.
After the game, he was mostly asked about everyone else.
“It probably was hard for him to come back after being gone for so long but he made plays,” Nelson said of Rodgers. “That's what we expected from him. We weren't going to give him a break just because he's been gone for a while. We needed him to come in and make plays right away. He did that, not only throwing the ball but getting us into some good plays. Making some checks to give us an opportunity to make plays.”
But without a doubt, this was one of Nelson's greatest efforts, especially after he made a rare gaffe.
Rodgers whistled a pass to him in the second quarter, which Nelson did not secure. It popped up and was intercepted. Nelson was still in a discussion with receivers coach Edgar Bennett on the sideline when the Bears did nothing with the bonus possession, but Nelson played as if he knew he was lucky it didn't amount to anything.
“Drops are going to happen, you're not going to catch them all, and the ball is not coming soft,” said receiver James Jones. “We want to catch every one, but you've got to have amnesia. You drop one, you come back and make a play—and that's what Jordy did.”
So he went on a tear. In the fourth quarter, Nelson had a 34-yard, sideline catch on which he broke at least one, and maybe more, sure tackles. That led to the laser to Andrew Quarless and then a finishing touchdown run by Eddie Lacy to cut the Bears' lead to 28-27.
How many times Sunday did Nelson catch a low ball at his shins? One was on fourth down on that critical, game-winning final drive.
“He is as clutch as they get at the receiver position,” said backup quarterback Matt Flynn. “He's got such strong, good hands. He's a smart player. And that catch he made on fourth down was kind of the testament to what he brings to the team and how he is as a player and a person. Big-time play. Big-time player.”
Payback, for Nelson, really—to his own team.
“If you're dropping balls or balls are going off your fingertips and you're just not able to connect, its tough,” said Nelson. “You don't want that because guys are relying on you and you're not making the plays. So you try to move on. It's hard but you move on. You've just got to focus. You try to catch every one. It's not like you think a little bit more about it. You just go out there and play.”
The Packers have been asked—again—if this year reminds them at all of their 2010 playoff run. The answers vary, but to Nelson it's pretty simple. A No. 1 seed, as in 2011, or a No. 6 as in 2010, are the same.
“It's win or go home,” he said. “I'd rather be 15-1 because it's a lot more enjoyable throughout the year, but you'll take it however you can get it, just winning the division. Especially having to do it in Chicago.
“We've seen over the last five years, as long as you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. So that's what you want, you want a shot. And we got it.”