GREEN BAY — Jordy Nelson can’t see into the future.
The Packers’ receiver doesn’t know how many receptions or touchdowns he’ll end up with in a given year and doesn’t see the point in trying to prophesy how any season will unfold.
So coming off the knee injury that sidelined him in 2015, it doesn’t come as a big surprise that Nelson didn’t jot down any lofty goals or expectations for his return.
The only number the veteran receiver concerned himself with was whether he was one of 45 active players for the team’s regular-season opener in Jacksonville on Sept. 11.
“There’s different ways to set a goal,” said Nelson earlier this week. “I set my goals to be ready for Week 1 and I was ready for Week 1. That was one of them checked off.”
Nelson, now in his ninth NFL season, has been doing this long enough to understand that the only pressure that matters is the standards a player sets for himself.
While some might point to Nelson’s six catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns against Detroit two weeks ago as a sign that he’s back, the Pro Bowl receiver judges progress much differently.
For Nelson, it’s not about the numbers. It’s about how he feels coming out of a game and by the first practice of the following week. To that end, he’s seen progress in each of his first three regular-season games.
“I think numbers can sway both ways,” Nelson said. “I think it can show too much and I think they can not show enough. Just me personally, the way I feel throughout a game, the way I feel on Monday when we come in after a game, how the body recovers by the time we go practice on Wednesday. I think, to me, that’s what a lot of it is and it’s gotten better.”
Nelson didn’t play in the preseason due to a “hiccup” in his non-surgically repaired knee, but his conditioning has been on point since the regular season started.
He’s played in 171 of the offense’s 189 snaps (90.5 percent) in the Packers’ first three games with a team-high 17 catches for 206 yards and four touchdowns.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy couldn’t be more pleased with how Nelson has performed considering he didn’t play in the preseason and wasn’t reinserted into team drills until the final week of training camp.
“Frankly, I think we made it difficult on Jordy,” said McCarthy earlier in the week. “I think expectations on him were unrealistic, for him to come out of the preseason and think he was going to go down to Jacksonville and perform. I think he’s exceeded the reality that I had for him. I think he’s done a great job.”
While McCarthy’s comments are admirable, Nelson doesn’t have any qualms with how his return was handled. After all, it was everyone’s goal to avoid risking a setback.
Even if statistics aren’t how Nelson measures his progress, the Packers have to like what they’ve seen from their receiver through the first three games.
His performance against Detroit marked the first time he crossed the 100-yard threshold since a 20-3 win over Tampa Bay on Dec. 21, 2014, and represented his first multi-touchdown performance since Dec. 8, 2014, against Atlanta.
Regardless of what the stat sheet reads, Nelson prefers to look at the big picture. As he points out, it only takes a 300-yard game like Atlanta’s Julio Jones had to change everything.
“I’ve never been a numbers guy,” Nelson said. “I think that’s where a lot of people get caught up in he’s averaging this or if you project this over so many games, he’s going to do this. All I need to do is have a game like Julio and those numbers will be out the window.”
Some of those external expectations likely are a byproduct of the issues the Packers’ offense had without Nelson last season when the passing game dipped from eighth to 25th in total yards.
Green Bay showed signs of re-establishing its prodigious passing game before the team’s Week 4 bye with a 31-point first half against the Lions.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers shelved all the outside questions about offensive efficiency with four first-half touchdown passes en route to a 129.3 passer rating on the day.
Players on both sides of the ball have remarked how Nelson’s return has sparked the entire team and seeing Nelson get fired up after his second touchdown only added to that fire.
“I think we saw flashes of the offense that people are accustomed to seeing here,” receiver Randall Cobb said. “So continuing that, continuing to make those big plays. We had a lot of big plays at Detroit game.”
Nelson said he would have preferred the bye to be later in the season to build upon his early progress, but he and the Packers will try to carry the momentum forward against the New York Giants this Sunday.
From Nelson’s perspective, he’s pleased with how his body has responded and his route-running has returned. As the weeks go on, he only expects both to improve.
At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters because it’s not about notching another 1,000-yard season or catching 15 touchdowns.
It’s been about playing football again and that remains the only expectation Nelson had in place for 2016.
“I’m very experienced in what needs to be done week-in and week-out,” Nelson said. “My goal or whatever you want to say is to just do my job. You can’t do anything besides what you’re supposed to do and do it to the best of my ability.
“If I handle that, then hopefully we’re making plays and I’m being successful, and we’re being successful as an offense.”