DETROIT – Jermichael Finley and Aaron Rodgers’ Saturday night dates paid off in a big way Sunday.
The Green Bay Packers tight end and quarterback started meeting the night before games a few weeks ago, and when the Packers needed a big play against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field – down six points with 3 minutes 43 seconds to play – a subtle change Rodgers and Finley had discussed the night before came to fruition.
On the play – second and 10 at the Packers’ 29-yard line – Finley lined up on the line of scrimmage, alongside right tackle T.J. Lang. Pre-snap, Rodgers stepped forward out of the shotgun, called out to Finley and told him to move to his right, detached from the line, and standing up in a two-point stance.
“He says, ‘Stand up, big guy,’” Finley said after the Packers’ 24-20 victory over the Lions. “He gave me the route and what-not, and said, ‘Make sure you get the depth.’ All in one sentence. And it happened.”
That it did. Rodgers told Finley to run a short drag route, on which he was wide open, and hit him quickly. Finley turned and ran behind blocks by Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, then ran through attempted tackles by linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Chris Houston along the right sideline near midfield before finally being dragged down after a 40-yard gain at the Lions’ 31. Three plays later, Rodgers hit Cobb for the go-ahead touchdown.
“It was a subtle little adjustment we had there we talked about. We didn't talk about it maybe against that defense, but I kind of wanted to get something going there after missing Jordy,” Rodgers said, referring to an incompletion he’d thrown to Nelson on the previous play. “I wanted to put us in third and a reasonable (distance). I didn't expect to get, what, 40 yards out of that. I've got to give J-Mike credit for making a big play like that."
Asked if the Saturday night talk was a factor in the play, Finley replied: “Dead serious, it is. It was one of the plays we went over last night. Just dug into it, he said, ‘It’s going to work, I guarantee you.’ And it did. We were going over that play repeatedly.”
Finley, who finished with three receptions for 66 yards, also delivered a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter on a rare play. The call was for a screen, but when Rodgers recognized that the Lions defense had diagnosed it, he spotted Finley wide open in the middle of the field. Again, Finley caught the ball, turned upfield and then burst through would-be tacklers at the goal line.
“We never, ever pass the ball (to the tight end there). Five years I’ve been here, we run that play repeatedly, never got to me,” Finley said. “So I took my eye off of A-Rod, and I saw the ball coming out of the side of my eye, so I had to turn and lean. I thought I was going to get smacked, and stumbled a little and caught my balance and dove into the (end) zone.”
Said Rodgers: “That's a play that we haven't run in awhile, probably weeks. And I haven't hit him on that in probably over a year, even counting practice. So for him to still be awake on that play and understand he's ... although he's kind of an alert, meaning he's not in the progression, that if things happen a certain way, he could get it. The ball was low, he made a nice catch and was able to get that in the end zone. So I give him a lot of credit.”
Those two big plays came on the heels of five straight unproductive games for Finley, who caught only three passes for 11 yards at Indianapolis on Oct. 7, two passes for 12 yards at Houston on Oct. 14, two passes for 31 yards at St. Louis on Oct. 21, two passes for 24 yards against Jacksonville on Oct. 28 and one pass for 6 yards against Arizona on Nov. 4, the Packers’ last game before the bye week.
“I think his head's really been in it the last couple of weeks. He and I have been spending time together and I'm excited about him moving forward,” Rodgers said.
“His game is so much about confidence and you’ve just got to keep trying to create as many opportunities as possible,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “In fairness to Jermichael, we don’t go out and specifically target opportunities. It’s a quarterback-driven offense that’s conceptually built to attack a defense.”
And now, that quarterback’s confidence in Finley is growing again.
“It’s big, man,” Finley said. “It gets Aaron looking at me for one; it slows my head down for two, and it’s big for the team to get me and ‘12’ on the same page for this last stretch to the playoffs. I’m excited. I feel like a rookie right now.
“I see it happening now. We have a big big-time playmaker now in Cobb, it’s going to be hard to shuffle the ball around between me and him. It’s going to be awesome right now. I feel it.”
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