DETROIT—Jermichael Finley said he felt different before Sunday’s game, that something was going to change.
Of course, the Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 tight end has said that before. But this time, it really was different.
Finley made his biggest impact on a game in 2012 in the 24-20 victory over the Lions at Ford Field. He made just three catches, but the first two were the biggest plays he’s made all season.
Finley had a 20-yard touchdown in the first half and a 40-yard catch-and-run on the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. His 66 total yards were a season-high, and the three catches were his most since Week 5.
“I slowed my mind down, not make the game bigger than it is,” said Finley, who has talked for weeks about trying to get back into a groove. “That’s what I did. I was patient.”
So patient that he’d been waiting his entire career for the TD he scored on Sunday. The Packers were setting up a screen to the right to RB James Starks, but QB Aaron Rodgers threw the ball back to the middle instead of to a wide-open Finley. He had nobody in his path until he crashed over the goal line early in the second quarter.
The Packers had tried an unsuccessful screen pass earlier in the game, and Finley said when the offensive players looked at the snapshot on the sideline, they could see all of Detroit’s defenders cheating that way with no one on the backside. But even on the next screen call, Finley still wasn’t sure the pass would come his way.
“I’ve been running that route for five years since I’ve been here and never got the ball,” he said. “That play right there, didn’t expect to get the ball again. It surprised me.
“I was bracing for the hit, and I almost tripped over, but I got my balance and dove into the end zone.”
His balance came in handy on the fourth-quarter play, a bigger one both in yardage and significance. With the Packers trailing 20-14 and under four minutes left, Rodgers walked over and tapped Finley at the line of scrimmage to get him out of his in-tight, three-point stance and take a stand-up position in the slot.
Rodgers then fired a quick out to Finley, who got great blocking from the outside receivers near the sideline, stayed in bounds and took the ball 40 yards in all to the Detroit 31. Three snaps later, after a short 6-yard pass to Finley, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb with the game-winning 22-yard TD.
“I was locked in. I was already on my route that he gave me,” Finley said of the big play. “He came over to me and switched it up, and it was a big play. It was a gash, and we needed it on that drive.”
Talk about concentration: Speaking of Cobb’s late TD catch, the second-year receiver said he didn’t even see the ball right away but managed to pick it up coming out of the Ford Field lights in time to haul it in.
On third-and-1, Cobb ran past cornerback Jacob Lacey, who had intercepted a Rodgers pass intended for Cobb back in the second quarter on a seam route. This time, Rodgers lofted the ball over Cobb’s head and Lacey – who had his back to the ball the whole time – never saw it, though Cobb almost didn’t either.
“About midway in the air,” Cobb said, describing when he picked it up. “I caught it right out of the lights. My visor was a little dirty but I was able to see the ball coming and adjust to it and make the play.”
The play was another example of the faith Rodgers continues to develop in Cobb, who is becoming the most dynamic player in the offense (nine catches, 74 yards; two rushes, 19 yards on Sunday). Cobb said there’s no way Rodgers throws one up in the air like that for him during his rookie season, particularly with the game on the line, but this year has been a different story.
“He has that trust in me and believes in me,” Cobb said of Rodgers. “I’m running my route to win every single time because I never know when he may throw it to me anyways.”
Still slumping: Kicker Mason Crosby didn’t kick over the bye week to try to clear his mind, but it didn’t seem to help.
Crosby missed his first two field goal attempts on Sunday, from 50 and 38 yards, before finally making a 39-yarder with 19 seconds left for the Packers’ final points.
That makes seven misses in Crosby’s last 13 field goal attempts over the past six games after a 5-for-5 start to the year.
Crosby actually missed his first try twice, on the final play of the first half. Detroit called a timeout just before the snap, but Crosby swung through anyway and was wide right. On the one that counted, he was wide left. That kick would have tied the score at 10 at intermission.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Crosby missed the 38-yarder wide left with 8:37 left. That also would have tied the score, at 17.
“I put good strikes on them, I just didn’t put them on line,” said Crosby, who stood up to the pending criticism by answering questions at his locker for several minutes after the game. “There’s a lot of things that go into it. I just have to work through it here. It’s something I’ve never really dealt with a ton, missing these types of kicks. I’m just going to put my nose down, work on it and just trust it.”
The only other notable slump of Crosby’s six-year career came in 2009, when he missed four of 10 tries over a stretch of four late-season games, all from inside 43 yards. But he snapped out of it and made 4-of-5 the rest of the season, with the only miss from 54.
But this is by far the roughest patch of his career. He insisted it didn’t bother him that Mike McCarthy passed on a 49-yard attempt in the first half and elected to go for it on fourth-and-4 instead. The pass was incomplete and the Packers came away with nothing.
Crosby’s 39-yarder in the final minute was true and forced the Lions to need a last-gasp touchdown to win. So he ended the day on a good note, but the most important thing to Crosby was that his misses didn’t cost his team a victory.
“This team fights together,” he said. “Whenever something isn’t working quite right, which is I’m not making all my kicks, guys are picking me up and we’re still able to get wins.”
Injury update: The only injury reported after the game was to nose tackle B.J. Raji, who left the contest late with an ankle injury. Raji has dealt with an ankle injury previously this season. A further update should be coming Monday. Additional coverage - Nov. 18