GREEN BAY – Life is good for James Jones.
While the Green Bay Packers wide receiver was one of the few players who stayed in town for the bye week, he had a wonderful off-the-field reason: He and his wife, Tamika, welcomed their first child, James Martell “Lightning” Jones, into the world in the early morning hours of Saturday, Oct. 22. (The 7-pound. 11-ounce, 20-inch not-so-little guy and Mom are healthy and happy, Dad reports.)
And on the field, things are going well, too. Jones has reestablished himself in recent weeks as a vital part of the Packers’ spread-the-wealth passing game, entering next week’s back-from-the-bye game at San Diego with 19 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns, including 10 catches for 238 yards and two TDs in the last three games.
“There was that little deal the first week about him not getting the opportunities and voicing some frustration. And he’s gotten opportunities that last couple of weeks and made the most of them,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was disappointed to learn of little James’ middle name – he was hoping for Aaron – but is thrilled with the elder James’ play of late. “I’m really proud of him.”
After playing just 19 snaps and catching one pass for 1 yard in the Sept. 8 season-opener against New Orleans, Jones admitted to reporters – after some prodding – that he was disappointed in his limited playing time against the Saints, the first casualty in the Packers’ talent-laden receiving corps. Through seven games, however, Jones ranks fourth on the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns behind wide receiver Greg Jennings (42-677-5), tight end Jermichael Finley (25-334-4) and wide receiver Jordy Nelson (24-465-4).
“To be honest with you, everything’s really going the same. Nothing’s really changed for me,” Jones explained before the bye week began. “I’m not a complainer. I was just frustrated. As a competitor, you want to be on the field.
“It’s never been about the ball to me. I’ve been here, I’ve been in games where I played a lot and didn’t get any opportunities and I didn’t complain. It wasn’t about the ball. I just want to be on the field helping us win. And lately, I’ve been on the field, so I have no complaints.”
By unofficial count, after playing a total of 60 snaps in the first three weeks, Jones has played 131 in the last four games. And after ranking a distant fourth among the five receivers in snaps through three games, he has now closed the gap considerably. Jennings (351 snaps) is still far-and-away the team’s go-to receiver, followed by Nelson (253 snaps). But Jones (191 snaps) is on pace to pass veteran Donald Driver (210 snaps) for the third spot in the rotation. In the last four games, Jones has played 27 more snaps than Driver (104 snaps)
Jones, who set career highs with 50 receptions for 679 yards (with five TDs) in the regular season last year before catching 11 passes for 144 yards and two more touchdowns in the playoffs, endured some criticism last season despite the team’s Super Bowl XLV victory because he dropped several would-be touchdowns. And after re-signing with the team for three years and $9.6 million when his free-agent market wasn’t what he’d hoped, some wondered whether Jones was still an important piece of the Packers’ offense.
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was not among those people.
“I’m glad he’s here,” Philbin said. “When you watch the tape and evaluated his performance from a year ago — everybody wanted to get on him because he had a couple of drops on deep balls — but I thought he played well last year, I really did.
“I’m glad he’s on our ballclub. He’s working hard. He’s made a nice contribution so far. Hopefully, that will continue. And I anticipate that to be the case.”
The challenge being a receiver in the Packers’ offense, of course, is making the most of what could be your limited opportunities, and Jones was Exhibit A during the team’s 24-3 win over St. Louis on Oct. 16. Jones caught just one pass – a 35-yard touchdown on a play where normally, the receiver in his position has no chance of getting the ball thrown to him.
Rodgers explains: “That’s a fun one, for a number of reasons. Most importantly, a lot of times the unexpected happens and because everyone is doing their job, great things happen. That’s a play where I haven’t hit that backside route ever in a game and the only time I can remember completing that was to Rod Gardner in 2006 in the offseason when he was with us (for a minicamp). That route we usually hit with the over route and very rarely ever look at that (backside) guy.
“(On the play), the (defensive) end gets washed out inside, (the Rams) are covering the over route, and Greg (Jennings) takes (his route) deep. He’s kind of got two men on him and the wind’s blowing 25 miles an hour. I peek backside and James is busting his butt on the post route and (he’s) open. You love it because that’s a play when it only would happen if 11 guys are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and then great things happen.
“I think it was (tight end Tom) Crabtree who was running the over route. From our formational right to left as I rolled out, Jermichael wasn’t open, Crabby wasn’t open, (I) looked to Greg. He put his hand up, he was heading deep. And that was probably a lower percentage throw but one I would have thought about making had I not seen James flash on me because he was booking it across the field.
“And it’s funny talking to James after that play, he’s thinking, ‘Man, I just beat this guy real bad but that backside post never gets the ball in this route.’ But he didn’t give up, he still ran full speed and I think was as surprised as I was that he was open. And if you see his reaction after he caught the touchdown, he caught it and kind of looked around like, ‘Man, what just happened? He actually threw the backside post on a 96 Keep Left Late?
“It’s really appreciated when a guy does his job, even when he’s not expecting to get the ball. (It) says a lot about James.”
So, too, does it say a lot about the way Jones continued to work despite his frustration with his limited playing time early in the season, when it looked as if he might’ve made a mistake re-upping with the Packers.
“I have no regrets on the decision I made. Everything will work itself out,” Jones said. “Me and the wife, we believe this is where we’re supposed to be. If I was meant to go somewhere else, I would’ve gone somewhere else. I have no regrets. Everything will work itself out. We have a lot of people, so they’re trying to rotate us as much as they can and as best they can. You just have to make the play when you get the opportunity.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.