Packers receiver Jennings doesn’t need size, speed to score
The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs both did – and paid for it.
Less than a week after catching an 82-yard touchdown pass from Brett Favre to beat the Broncos on the first play from scrimmage in overtime, Jennings got behind the defense again to catch a go-ahead 60-yard touchdown in the Packers’ victory at Kansas City on Sunday.
Think that will make opposing teams consider him a downfield threat?
“I hope not,” Jennings said. “I think they will. But if they don’t, then we’ll see what happens.”
For Jennings, who showed a knack for getting open and gaining yards after the catch before he was slowed by an injury as a rookie last season, the back-to-back clutch catches were another sign that he can make an impact despite his 5-foot-11 frame and underwhelming speed.
Favre praises Jennings’ combination of talent and awareness on the field. But despite Jennings’ two touchdowns against the Chiefs on Sunday, Favre points out that he also had a chance to score on two other plays – an indication that he has room to improve.
“I think it’s easy to see how important he’s been to our team,” Favre said. “I think it’s easy to see his evolution. And I think Greg would be the first to tell you that he’s only really scratched the surface.”
Jennings says he’s just happy to have earned Favre’s trust.
“Obviously I have a lot more maturing to do and a lot more learning that needs to take place,” Jennings said. “But I’m trying to make strides and I’m trying to get to where he needs me to be before he puts his cleats up.”
Despite his sudden notoriety this week, Jennings is going out of his way to remain humble – so much so that he’s even hesitant to admit he’s excited about his success.
“I just don’t take anything for granted,” Jennings said. “I’m not excited.”
After a brief pause, Jennings reconsidered.
“I don’t want to say I’m not excited,” Jennings said. “I’m excited about the success that I’ve had. But I’m not satisfied at all. And it’s not one of those greed deals where I want the ball, I want the ball. It’s not about that. I put my team first, and if you have your priorities set straight, then everything else kind of falls into place.”
No. 1 receiver Donald Driver said he can’t get a read on what this season has meant to Jennings.
“I don’t know,” Driver said. “He hasn’t said anything. I think he’s trying to hold out to the end of the year. The biggest thing with him is that last year, he got a lot of injuries last year with the ankle, and that hurt him. But I think this year, he doesn’t want to talk about anything until the season’s over. So we’re going to wait until the season’s over and I’ll ask him what he thought about the year.”
Jennings caught three touchdowns in the Packers’ first five games as a rookie last season. But he got a high ankle sprain in the sixth game of the season and was never quite the same.
Packers coaches are sold on Jennings’ play, but questions about his durability continued to linger this season after he sat out the Packers’ first two games with a hamstring injury.
“If Greg Jennings stays healthy, I don’t see this pace stopping,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s an exciting player.”
McCarthy said Jennings runs routes, reads coverage and uses his body leverage like a veteran.
“We’re excited about Greg Jennings, and I think you can see why just in the last couple weeks,” McCarthy said. “When he’s healthy, he has the ability to move the chains with the underneath completions – but his yards after the catch, he’s something special.”
Jennings doesn’t consider himself injury-prone.
“I’m not concerned about my health being an issue,” Jennings said. “It happens to the best of them, and right now I’m healthy so I’m rolling with that.”
Jennings is even less concerned about the national attention he received after his two big catches because fame can be fleeting.
“Really, what makes me go is, this is my life, this is what I have to do to support my family,” Jennings said. “God gave me this talent, and I’m going to use it to the best of my ability.”
And while Jennings isn’t necessarily out to prove his doubters wrong, he admits he had a good laugh at Lloyd Carr’s expense when the University of Michigan lost to Appalachian State earlier this year.
“That was exciting,” Jennings said. “I’m not going to lie.”
Jennings still carries a grudge against Carr after he verbally committed to Michigan in high school, only to have their coaches lose interest in him without explanation.
“They just stopped calling,” Jennings said.
So Jennings went to Western Michigan and became the school’s career leading receiver.
It wasn’t too long ago that Jennings would draw on such slights for motivation, but that time has past.
“That was more so of me feeling like I had to prove this and prove that,” Jennings said. “But this is a here and now league, it’s what have you done for me lately. And obviously I’ve had some success. But at the same time, I could fall off tomorrow. So I’ve just got to take it one game at a time – and pray that I stay healthy.”