GREEN BAY — It’s been almost exactly one year since Randall Cobb was forced to watch the Packers’ NFC Divisional playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals from a hospital bed.
Cobb, who had suffered a punctured lung in the first quarter of the game, was transferred from the University of Phoenix Stadium for observation. Meanwhile, the Packers were down to their last three healthy receivers and all he could do was cheer from afar.
There was a chance a similar scenario could have played out during Sunday’s NFC Wild Card playoff game against the New York Giants. Earlier that morning, the veteran receiver didn’t know whether he’d get the green light to return from the ankle injury that had sidelined him for the last two games.
“I still today didn’t know whether they were going to activate me or not,” Cobb said. “I was hoping so but I thought I was going to be activated last week and I wasn’t.”
In the end, Cobb was cleared to play and managed to get a small slice of redemption with a performance for the ages that went a long way in helping the Packers secure a 38-13 victory over the Giants in front of 77,549 at Lambeau Field.
Cobb caught five passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns, but his 42-yard catch of a Hail Mary from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to close the first half was his biggest.
After Green Bay’s offense struggled to ignite early, Cobb’s catch gave the Packers a 14-6 halftime lead and the jolt of momentum they needed after losing Jordy Nelson to a rib injury.
“Everybody stuck to our job and tried to put ourselves in a position to make the plays when they were there whenever we had those opportunities,” Cobb said. “We hate seeing one of our guys go down, but we have to continue to go play. We know our season was on the line.”
The Packers planned to play it safe with Cobb early on. He was held out of the two-receiver packages at first, but assumed a bigger role in the offense after Nelson was carted to the locker room in the second quarter and didn’t return.
Cobb and receiver Davante Adams knew it was up to them to step up in Nelson’s absence. The two receivers wound up combining for 241 of Rodgers’ 362 passing yards and all four of his touchdowns.
Adams caught the first on a 5-yard pass after a scramble drill with 2 minutes, 20 seconds left in the first half to give Green Bay a 7-6 lead, before Cobb capitalized on Rodgers’ third successful Hail Mary in the last 13 months.
Like last year’s game in Detroit, Adams actually was the designated jumper on the play. It was Cobb’s job to box out the back end to give his teammate more room to jump.
Instead, Rodgers flung a ball that traveled more than 60 yards in the air, over the scrum in the end zone and into Cobb’s waiting arms.
“It’s unbelievable,” Cobb said. “We practice it once a week. It’s more for the defense to give them an opportunity to break it up but he makes the throw and guys are misjudging it and one of us were able to come up with it.”
If that wasn’t enough, Cobb then pulled down two more touchdowns in the second half to tie former Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe and another dozen players for the NFL record for touchdown receptions in a playoff game.
Both came on scramble plays at the tail end of four-receiver vertical routes. The first – a 30-yard catch in the third quarter – extended the Packers’ lead to 21-13, while his second practically sealed the victory with a little more than 9 minutes remaining.
Hamstring and ankle injuries cost Cobb three games during the regular season and forced him to be largely limited in a few others. He made a slight quip about wanting to play last week against Detroit but acknowledged the added rest benefited him on Sunday.
“I definitely think that extra week helped out,” Cobb said. “I think our training staff did a great job working with me over the past few weeks. I’m still in pain. I’m still playing through some pain and I’m going to have to. That’s part of it. I’m sure there’s a lot of guys who are in pain right now. I’m glad that Coach was able to activate me tonight and give me that opportunity.”
McCarthy said Cobb made significant strides during Thursday’s padded practice, an assessment Cobb agreed with when asked afterward. Along with clearing a few mental hurdles, he didn’t experience any added soreness with the ankle.
His return couldn’t have come with better timing for the Packers, who had to push forward without Nelson. The team’s leading receiver had been a rock for the offense all year long.
“There’s really nothing to say to a guy like that because he’s already fully ready for it,” said Adams of Cobb. “Obviously, it will take a blow by (Nelson) coming out of this game. We had to pick it up. We had to pick up the slack. That’s a huge piece of our offense that we had to play without early in the game.”
For Cobb, there was a little added satisfaction being able to contribute after sitting out of the Packers’ playoff loss last year in Arizona. Now, he hopes to keep it going next Sunday when the Packers travel to Dallas to face the top-seeded Cowboys.
“That was a very tough deal last year in Arizona being stuck in the hospital, watching the game from a hospital bed and knowing there’s nothing I could do about it,” Cobb said. “Being able to play tonight and try to make plays when presented those opportunities, (it was important to) put our team in a great position for a win.”
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