GREEN BAY—The quiet, even-keeled tight end probably hasn’t given it a thought but, in a sense, Richard Rodgers’ rookie season came full circle last week.
He made one of his best plays of the year against the same team that had victimized him for one of his worst.
Last Sunday against the Lions, Rodgers hauled in a difficult catch over the middle with Detroit linebacker Tahir Whitehead draped all over him to convert a key third-and-4 in the fourth quarter.
The Packers were only leading by a touchdown at the time and were in their own territory. Moving the chains there sent the offense on its way to the game-clinching score.
It was also against Detroit, of course, that Rodgers was blown backwards at the point of attack with the Packers backed up to their own goal line, leading to a Lions safety in a Week 3 defeat.
Through it all, the improving third-round draft pick from Cal has remained the same, low-key guy. He didn’t go in the tank after the first Detroit game, and he didn’t hop up and showboat with a first-down signal after his clutch catch put the Lions on their heels.
“I don’t need to do that,” he said.
He’s so understated that he’s hardly talked about his 43-yard gain to jump start the offense’s big day in Chicago back in September, or his impressive 32-yard TD catch against New England five weeks ago, two plays at the front of his rookie highlight reel. For the season, he has 20 catches for 225 yards and two scores.
“He hasn’t changed at all,” said Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements, who has frequently commented on seeing steady progress from Rodgers throughout the year. “He’s a hard worker, wants to do well. He works at it during the week and patiently awaits his opportunities.”
Those opportunities came in abundance last week, as he caught a season-best five passes on five targeted throws. Three of them picked up first downs, four if a facemask penalty at the end of one is counted.
Perhaps the strongest sign he has the potential to emerge as an even bigger playoff weapon was the trust his quarterback and namesake was showing in him.
In the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers caught the Lions with 12 defenders on the field and quick-snapped the ball. Richard Rodgers turned his head immediately on a middle-seam route and made a diving grab for 18 yards on the free play.
Three snaps later, on third-and-1, the quarterback sensed blitz and immediately went to his hot read, which was the tight end in the right slot. Gain of seven, first down.
“I’m sure that factors into it,” Clements said of the chemistry between the two. “If you ask Aaron, I’m sure he’d say he has a lot of confidence in him, because when the ball does come his way, he generally catches it.”
The toughest catch was the one with Whitehead hanging on him and practically dragging him down before the ball even arrived.
True to form, Rodgers was rather matter-of-fact in his self-assessment of the play.
“I don’t get that much separation from defensive guys, I’m not the fastest person in the world, so I have to make contested catches,” he said.
The more he makes, the more chances he’s sure to get.
“I think Aaron trusts all of us to make plays,” Rodgers said.
“I don’t think I had that big of a game. I had a couple catches and I only had 40 yards. That’s not really a huge game, but I played well and hopefully I can just improve.”