Covered far too often with just one defensive back or linebacker, Finley found all kinds of open space in racking up 103 yards receiving on just four catches, a whopping 25.8 yards per reception. A lot of his damage came with yards after the catch due to the single coverage, and the result was Finley’s second 100-yard performance in the regular season and third including last year’s playoff game.
“It’s a great feeling,” Finley said. “You just don’t know when the ball is going to come your way, so you have to take advantage of every chance you get the ball.”
Finley didn’t really get that chance last week, amassing just 47 yards on four receptions as the Eagles made him a focus of their defensive game plan. But on Sunday, Finley showed the kind of impact he can have when a defense’s coverage is more focused on outside receivers like Donald Driver (four catches, 38 yards) and Greg Jennings (3-36), who were held to more modest production.
“He caught the same amount of passes, it was just finding ways to get him the ball in space, down the field,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Philadelphia’s game plan was really to double him at all times, so we’ve looked at some ways to get him in better matchup situations.”
That started early, with Finley coming wide open on a drag route across the middle on the Packers’ second possession. He made the easy catch in stride and then took off down the right sideline, gaining 34 yards to set up first-and-goal on the 8.
On Green Bay’s next drive, he was matched up with 261-pound linebacker Chris Kelsay on third-and-2. That’s a matchup the Packers will take anytime, and Rodgers lofted a throw that Finley could run underneath. He made an impressive over-the-shoulder catch and gained 32 yards, helping set up the Packers’ first touchdown.
The biggest play Finley could have made was one where the ball didn’t come his way. In the third quarter, on second-and-3 from the Green Bay 43, Finley was lined up split out to the right, and his defender bit hard on a play-action fake in the backfield. Finley was running all alone down the right side of the field but Rodgers never saw him, throwing instead to his left to Jordy Nelson for 15 yards.
“I don’t think I’ve been … in my life that open,” Finley said. “I think I probably could have done karaoke and got in the end zone still. But we got the first down and that’s all that counts.”
It helped ease the sting of the missed opportunity when Rodgers came right back to Finley on the next snap, hitting him for 22 yards on a crossing route. It was no 57-yard TD, but it was another big gain, helping to set up Rodgers’ own 9-yard scramble for a score.
“That’s big right there, coming back,” Finley said. “Because he trusts that I’m going to be open. That’s all in the trust factor.”
The Packers seemingly can trust that Finley is capable of consistent production against nearly any defense. He added a 15-yard grab to convert a third-and-15 in the fourth quarter, leading to the Packers’ final touchdown.
Finley’s previous 100-yard game in the regular season came in Week 4 last season in Minnesota (six catches, 128 yards). He also had a Green Bay playoff-record 159 yards on six catches in the NFC Wild Card playoff in January.
With eight catches for 150 yards through two games, he’s on pace for the first 60-catch and first 1,000-yard season by a Green Bay tight end.
Finley is confident he can reach those numbers, but he isn’t as focused on them as much as he is the offense clicking as a whole. Talking about the unit scoring touchdowns on three straight possessions in the second half is what made him the happiest on Sunday.
He was just that much happier to have been such a big part of it.
“We’re trying to achieve greatness out there,” he said. “We’re not trying to be average, we’re not trying to be the second runner. We’re trying to be No. 1.”