GREEN BAY—There’s no way anybody could have predicted this, least of all James Jones.
He didn’t enter 2012 with some sort of premonition he was going to have a career year, or that two of his receiving mates would be dogged by injuries, leading to a greater reliance on him.
All Jones did was carry the same mindset into this year that he’s always possessed, the only approach any receiver amidst an ultra-talented corps can take when opportunities are never guaranteed.
“If I get five targets the whole season, make sure those five targets count,” Jones said.
Well, Jones is making them count all right. The Packers receiver leads the league in touchdown catches this year with 12, on just 51 receptions. That’s roughly one TD for every four grabs, and his scoring efficiency could cement a place in Packers history for the sixth-year pro.
Heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, Jones has a chance to become the first Packers receiver to finish as the league leader in TD catches since 1994. Eighteen years ago, Sterling Sharpe had 18.
None of the six Packers to post double digits in TD receptions since then (Robert Brooks, Keith Jackson, Antonio Freeman, Javon Walker, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson) has led the league. Freeman (1997, ’98) and Jennings (2010) have tied for second, while Nelson finished third last year.
Jones’ first career three-TD game last week in Chicago – his fourth multi-TD game of the season – vaulted him to the top of the league leaderboard, but Jones knows as well as anyone his stay on that perch could be short-lived.
A month ago, Jones didn’t have a single pass thrown his way in a blowout loss to the New York Giants. Something similar could happen over these last two weeks and several TD catchers around the league could pass him by. His own teammate, Nelson, had five TD grabs in the final two games last season.
“You never know how the game is going to crumble,” Jones said. “You could be in there 90 plays and not get one ball.”
Which is why Jones simply focuses on making the most of what he does get, and what else he can do to help the team. When Jones exited Soldier Field last Sunday after those three TD receptions, he told Mike McCarthy to study the videotape closely to see how many times the defensive back Jones was blocking got in on the tackle on a running play.
Jones estimated this week it was only once. He was proud of the way he blocked, and equally proud the effort was being noticed.
“He has really completed his game,” McCarthy said. “He’s doing all the little things.”
He has also put together a career’s worth of highlight-reel catches in one season. Roundly criticized for a number of high-profile drops during the Packers’ Super Bowl run two seasons ago, Jones has made the spectacular appear routine this year.
His diving, one-handed TD grab in Houston looked impossible, and he deftly outjumped defenders from Arizona and Minnesota for scoring passes. There have been plenty more, and Jones has credited “the grace of God” for such an extensive list.
“He’s done a great job on those 50-50 jump balls,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s brought down almost every single one of them.”
Rodgers gave his teammate a Pro Bowl plug this week and mused that Jones could have an even bigger year down the line if the opportunities come his way.
There’s that word again, opportunities. Make them count. That’s how Jones describes his job, and how his teammates describe theirs.
“We understand that,” Jones said. “We know the ultimate goal is winning and getting to the Super Bowl. Everybody in this locker room understands that.
“I’m just making the plays that are there.”
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