ATLANTA — The adaptability of the Packers’ offense has been tested at every turn in the first two months of the NFL season, and Sunday’s matchup with Atlanta was no different.
Already without their top two running backs, the Packers were again forced to get creative after announcing that receivers Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Ty Montgomery (illness) would be inactive against the Falcons.
In their stead, the Packers turned to reserve receivers Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison to play significant snaps rotating next to Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams.
Nelson and Adams carried the weight on offense, but each of the three young receivers left the Georgia Dome with his first NFL regular-season touchdown to help power the offense in the Packers’ 33-32 loss to the Falcons.
“Big-time,” said Adams when asked about how the young receivers played. “They already know. There’s not even much we have to say to them. They know when it’s time to step up that they have to make plays. They came in and did that, and I’m definitely proud of what they did.”
Without their top two running backs in Eddie Lacy and James Starks, the Packers continued to place a heavy emphasis on empty formations and five-receiver packages.
Nelson helped get the offense started with a season-long completion of 58 yards on the Packers’ opening drive and then nabbed his sixth touchdown catch of the year off a 5-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to get Green Bay on the board.
Allison, called up from the practice squad earlier this week, caught a 4-yard touchdown pass on Green Bay’s next offensive series in what also marked his first NFL reception.
“That’s our job to go out there and make plays,” Allison said. “We come to work and work for it day in and day out. We prepare hard. At the end of the day, it’s just about going out there and executing your job.”
Davis, the rookie fifth-round pick out of California, helped swing the field position in the Packers’ favor with a 55-yard punt return to the Atlanta 15-yard line in the second quarter.
He then finished the drive when he came back to catch a 9-yard touchdown from Rodgers on a ball that was thrown near the pylon of Atlanta’s end zone to give Green Bay a 21-13 lead at the time.
“I’m pretty sure he threw it before I even cut to the corner of the end zone,” said Davis, who also caught his first NFL pass on Sunday. “That’s why I was almost thrown off as well when the ball was in the air. That was just a perfect throw and I made the catch and got the touchdown."
Without Lacy and Starks, the Packers managed to get their offense clicking by using Cobb and Montgomery in the backfield in last week’s 26-10 win over Chicago.
In lieu of Cobb and Montgomery, the Packers used a rotation of Knile Davis, Don Jackson and fullback Aaron Ripkowski on running downs and deployed Adams in the backfield in passing situations.
It led to Adams leading the Packers with 12 catches for 74 yards after hauling in a career-high 13 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns a week earlier against the Bears.
After going 23 years without a receiver catching at least 10 passes in consecutive weeks, the Packers now have had receivers accomplish that feat twice in a three-game span, with Montgomery catching at least 10 passes against Dallas and Chicago.
“We did a lot of stuff out there,” Adams said. “A lot of good production especially given the situation with running backs and things like that. A lot of guys did a lot of things they haven’t done before.”
Janis caught two touchdown passes in last January’s divisional game against Arizona, but his first regular-season touchdown came at a critical time for the offense.
His 7-yard score with 3 minutes, 58 seconds remaining put the Packers back up front and ended a 13-play, 86-yard drive that ate 8:33 off the clock.
While the Packers weren’t able to muster a late comeback after Atlanta retook the lead 33-32 with 31 seconds remaining, Green Bay’s offense still managed to put up 331 total yards despite being without Lacy, Starks, Montgomery, Cobb or tight end Jared Cook (ankle).
That’s experience Janis and the rest of the young players on offense hope will benefit them if called up again this season.
“I think it shows the type of guys we have in our room,” said Janis, who caught four passes for 30 yards. “If somebody goes down, we have guys who can step up and make plays. I think that’s huge going on the season to know that if something comes up down the road, we’ll be all right.”
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