This just in: The Packers threw the ball a lot in 2010.
Six hundred seventy-three times in 20 games, to be exact, with 442 completed. Whittling that down to the 10 best? It means sorting through a lot of passes.
There were great throws, great catches, great runs after the catch and just plain great execution. That’s all represented on this list, which is ranked in ascending order.
10. Patience, please
The Packers executed some of their better screen passes in recent memory this past season, and Brandon Jackson’s 16-yard touchdown in the NFC wild-card playoff in Philadelphia was the best.
Leading 14-10 midway through the third quarter, the Packers were in goal-to-go when guard Daryn Colledge was called for holding, backing the offense up to the 16-yard line. On the next snap, Jackson caught a screen to the left but was out in front of his blockers.
Waiting patiently for Colledge and center Scott Wells to lead the way, Jackson beautifully adjusted his timing and cruised into the end zone untouched.
9. Wasting no time
Late in the first quarter against the Dolphins on Oct. 17, cornerback Tramon Williams intercepted Miami quarterback Chad Henne at the Green Bay 14. Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s mentality? Capitalize. Now.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, quarterback Aaron Rodgers dropped back and let one fly for receiver Greg Jennings, who hauled it in and raced 86 yards for the touchdown, the longest of either player’s career.
8. Tight throw to a tight end
Tied with the Lions, 7-7, on Oct. 3, the Packers had just recovered a Detroit fumble in the red zone. A sack, however, put the offense in a tough spot, third-and-goal from the 13.
In a prelude to how much Rodgers would come to trust his arm later in the season, the strong-armed quarterback fired a bullet over the middle to tight end Jermichael Finley, who had three players surrounding him. No matter. The ball got through, and Finley snagged it for the score, the first of many “Oh, wow!” throws for Rodgers.
7. Doing no wrong
In Atlanta in the NFC divisional playoff, it seemed as through every pass Rodgers threw turned into a big play. On this one, his receiver gave him some help.
With the score tied 14-all and less than a minute left in the first half, the Packers had first down at the Atlanta 20. Seeing a one-on-one matchup with receiver James Jones he liked on the outside, Rodgers threw it that way and Jones outjumped cornerback Brent Grimes for a great grab in the end zone.
All week leading up to the game, Jones had to answer for his drop of a potential 63-yard touchdown pass the week before in Philadelphia. He atoned nicely.
6. Early jump-start
The Packers entered week 16 against the Giants needing to win to keep their season alive, and receiver Jordy Nelson got the offense’s big day started.
On the first snap after New York’s first punt, Nelson – who hadn’t caught a pass longer than 28 yards all season to that point – got a free release deep down the middle of the field, and Rodgers didn’t miss. The 80-yard touchdown provided the first seven of 45 points in a must-win game.
5. Look ma, one hand
Donald Driver and Greg Jennings have had their share of great one-handed catches over the years, and this was as good as any of them.
In the season opener, the Packers and Eagles were tied, 3-3, when Green Bay faced a critical third-and-9 from the Philadelphia 36 late in the first half. Rodgers went over the middle to Jennings, but the pass was a little high and behind the receiver.
Jennings calmly gathered himself and elevated with his right arm outstretched overhead, hauling the ball into his chest as he crashed to the ground. The first down led to the go-ahead touchdown a few plays later, and Jennings had what might have been the best catch in the league on “Kickoff Weekend.”
In the regular-season meeting in Atlanta, the Packers were down to their final chance: trailing 17-10, 1:06 left, fourth-and-goal from the 10.
Staying cool under pressure, Rodgers stepped away from some traffic and rolled to his left. Spotting Nelson breaking free as he cut across the end zone, Rodgers intentionally kept his eyes looking elsewhere until it was time to fire.
When he did, he let loose with maybe the fastest fastball of his young career. Nelson caught it near the end-zone sideline, got both feet down in bounds and the Packers had tied the game in dramatic fashion.
3. Gutsy throw, gritty catch
The Packers led the Steelers, 14-3, late in the first half of the Super Bowl. Green Bay’s Jarrett Bush had just intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and the offense took advantage.
On first down from the Pittsburgh 21, Jennings ran a post from the left slot, splitting safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. Once again, Rodgers trusted his arm.
He got the ball past Clark, who dove from one side as Polamalu drilled Jennings from the other side. Touchdown! Jennings had plenty to say about Polamalu’s hit, as captured by NFL Films’ microphones on the Super Bowl XLV Champions DVD, but the Packers had taken control of the game.
2. No margin for error
This one made packers.com’s list of the “Ten plays that saved the season, (hyperlink)” and it deserves a lofty place here, too.
The Steelers had just scored to pull within 28-25 midway through the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, and the Packers faced third-and-10 from their own 25.
Again, the target was Jennings and, again, Rodgers’ pass was pristine. Whizzing the ball on a deep post just past the fingertips of cornerback Ike Taylor, Rodgers found his man for a 31-yard gain that led to the game’s final points.
1. He’s still got it
Driver had heard the whispers that the end might be near. Through the middle portion of the season, a quadriceps injury had contributed to him failing to catch a pass in two games, and it forced him to sit out a third.
He hadn’t caught a pass longer than 17 yards over a six-week span when he sent the Lambeau Field crowd into a frenzy early in the third quarter against the 49ers on Dec. 5.
With the Packers on their 39, Rodgers made the receivers adjust their alignment just before the snap and Driver broke into the clear as two defenders chased Jennings.
Driver caught the pass just inside the San Francisco 40 and suddenly became the old man nobody could tackle. He spun away from safety Reggie Smith and then shook off a high hit from safety Dashon Goldson as tight end Andrew Quarless came crashing through.
Just 10 yards from the end zone, Driver then cut inside to avoid cornerback Nate Clements. Finally, he bowled over Clements, Goldson and linebacker Ahmad Brooks at the pylon for a 61-yard score.
It was Driver’s longest touchdown catch since week six of 2009 (at Cleveland, 71 yards), but it was his most spectacular in years. Maybe the best of his career.
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Mike Spofford is a 1995 Masters graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University who worked as a sports reporter for two daily newspapers in Wisconsin, covering the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. Spofford has been a packers.com staff writer since 2006.