GREEN BAY – Yes, the Packers should have scored more points, and had chances to. No, Aaron Rodgers should not be throwing two interceptions against a depleted New York secondary. And no, the Packers didn’t put the Giants away when they could have.
If you’re walking away from Sunday night’s 23-16 victory at Lambeau Field bothered by all that, it’s understandable. There’s plenty of truth in those issues.
But maybe there’s a bigger picture here. Given what transpired over the first three games of 2016, the most encouraging development on Sunday night might have been the performances of receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
Jordy Nelson looked back to his old self before the bye week, surpassing 100 yards against the Lions. And while Nelson did record his fifth TD reception of the season early in Sunday’s game, he wasn’t the star of this show.
Rodgers kept looking for Nelson, who was targeted 13 times in all. He caught just four passes for 38 yards. Some throws weren’t quite in sync. Some he still could have caught.
Cobb and Adams did far more damage, and maybe that’s a good thing. They combined for 14 receptions for 193 yards and a score, a 29-yard beauty to Adams over a newly acquired Giants reserve cornerback, the kind of matchup Adams needs to win when called upon.
The numbers are fairly close to the duo’s combined production in the first three games (20 catches, 231 yards, two TDs). For as much as Head Coach Mike McCarthy changed personnel on the long, efficient game-opening drive, the passing game will still revolve around the receiving corps’ big three, at least until tight end Jared Cook returns from his high ankle sprain.
“I thought Randall was excellent,” McCarthy said. “He was a primary target through a number of different packages and he delivered. I thought he had a heck of a night.”
Rodgers felt even more strongly about Cobb’s game (nine catches for 108 yards), his first 100-yard showing since Week 2 of last season. It also included the two biggest plays of the fourth quarter.
First, on third-and-9 from the Green Bay 21 with the Packers leading, 20-9, Cobb caught a short pass and looked to be swallowed up well short of the first down. But in suddenly impersonating Eddie Lacy, he bounced off multiple tacklers, threw in a spin move and picked up 17 yards to move the chains.
The Packers eventually kicked a field goal to take a 14-point lead with 6:39 left when the alternative was a punt from deep in their own territory with 12 minutes to go.
The other big conversion came at the end, right before the two-minute warning to seal the win, a 13-yard catch-and-run on third-and-10. Even a wicked hit from Giants safety Landon Collins didn’t keep Cobb down for long.
“He’s an extremely tough individual, an incredible teammate, and I’m really proud to call him a friend,” Rodgers said. “He played his butt off today. He took some shots.”
Cobb also took a hit on a play Rodgers thought was a 21-yard free-play TD in the first quarter, but the Giants’ 12-men penalty was offset by an illegal shift on the Packers. Rodgers suggested the penalty was on Adams but absolved him, believing he was set at the snap.
Adams was also flagged for offensive pass interference late in the second quarter, but even if his outing wasn’t as clean as Cobb’s, it was similarly important. When Rodgers began the second half 1-of-4 for just 3 yards, he found Adams deep over the middle for 20 yards to jump-start a drive for a field goal.
On Adams’ fifth and final catch, he was going down but kept his balance long enough to dive ahead for 10 yards on second-and-11. Aaron Ripkowski’s pile-pushing 13-yard run followed to convert on third-and-short.
Adams’ three TD catches on the season are second on the team to Nelson’s five. His 85 receiving yards Sunday were his most since Week 8 of last season, the only time Adams topped 80 yards in all of 2015.
Even better, Adams wasn’t reveling in his productive game but wishing he’d done more.
“It was OK,” he told Larry McCarren in a one-on-one interview. “I can do better.”
Make no mistake, Nelson will continue to be the main man in the Packers’ passing game. The air attack is at its best when he is.
But the Packers are going to need games like this from Cobb and Adams over the long haul. If Sunday night’s post-bye victory was the receiving pair’s collective re-start to 2016, the Packers will be better for it.