Packers receivers catch on in big way
It didn’t happen right away.
Too many drives fizzled out, a surprising number of passes were dropped and there even was a sideline tirade. But heading into Sunday’s game at Detroit with their playoff position still in doubt, the Packers are back to looking like the formidable passing offense they’ve always expected to be.
“It’s a lot more fun when it’s going the way it’s been going the last few weeks,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s definitely tough to come in here when you’re struggling. But we’ve just been doing a good job of finding ways to get the ball to Greg Jennings. As he’s kind of taken off the last few weeks, it’s made some openings for other guys. Donald made one of the greatest plays I’ve ever been a part of last week.”
Jennings and Driver did indeed lead the way in Sunday’s victory over San Francisco.
Jennings caught six passes for 122 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the 49ers—but Driver stole the show.
The veteran receiver bounced off defenders during a remarkable 61-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that broke open what had been a tight game early in the third quarter.
It was a big moment for Driver, whose productivity has dipped this season as he struggled with a quadriceps injury.
He was held without a catch in back-to-back games in October—breaking a franchise-record stretch of 133 games with at least one reception—then sat out the Nov. 7 victory over Dallas. It was the first game he had missed because of an injury since 2003. Until Driver’s touchdown on Sunday, he hadn’t scored since the Packers’ Oct. 3 victory over Detroit.
Turns out, the 35-year-old guy still can get it done.
“I’m OK with the old man jokes,” Driver said. “When you look around this locker room, some of these guys, my first year in the league, they were in middle school. A lot of guys around here called me, ‘Yes, sir,’ and I tell them not to call me that.”
Jennings, meanwhile, was frustrated early in the season as the offense seemed to focus primarily on Finley, a third-year player who was widely expected to have a breakout season before he hurt his knee against Washington on Oct. 10.
Jennings was held under 100 yards receiving in eight of the Packers’ first nine games—including a stretch of four games where he was held to three catches or fewer.
After a sideline tirade during the overtime loss at Washington, Jennings had to apologize to wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson. Jennings said at the time that it felt good “to relieve some of that built-up tension.”
Now he has had more than 100 yards receiving three straight games.
“Probably a little bit more eyeballing from the head guy over there, (No.) 12, trying to get me the ball a little more,” Jennings said, referring to Rodgers. “When guys go down, you have to increase your play and that’s pretty much what we’ve been trying to do.”
The Packers also are trying to take advantage of their depth at receiver, going back to the so-called “Big Five” formation—five wideouts and an empty backfield—the team had gone away from earlier this season.
Rodgers, who admits his own play wasn’t up to par early in the season, said the offense is getting back to its main identity: wide receivers who can run after the catch.
“I think we got back to some of the stuff we did last season,” Rodgers said. “A lot more spread out stuff, a lot more high-percentage stuff. Mike (McCarthy) has given me a lot of opportunities to make some decisions and get us in good play situations. The no-huddle has been good for us. I think that stuff has helped me feel comfortable—and play better, honestly.”
Clifton, Woodson injured
Left tackle Chad Clifton is recovering from a concussion and cornerback Charles Woodson has injured his ankle in practice, adding to the Packers’ injury woes.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy says Clifton sustained a concussion Sunday but did not show any symptoms until Monday. Clifton was limited in practice Wednesday and his availability will be evaluated later this week. If Clifton can’t play in Sunday’s game at Detroit, second-year player T.J. Lang likely would replace him.
McCarthy says Woodson sprained his ankle during practice Wednesday. His availability is unclear.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins already has been ruled out for Sunday’s game with a calf injury.