By ZACH HEILPRIN
GREEN BAY -- Randall Cobb has a way with first impressions. He showed it again Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Though his Green Bay Packers offensive teammates didn’t look much like the group that powered the team to a 15-1 record a year ago, Cobb certainly had people flashing back to his breakout performance in last year’s opening victory against the New Orleans Saints when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown and caught a pass for another.
Against the San Francisco 49ers, he led the team in receptions and returned a punt for a score. The biggest difference between the two performances, and the most important, was that the Packers lost to the 49ers, 30-22.
In the post-game locker room, Cobb sported a t-shirt that said, “gotta keep moving.” It was apt, because coach Mike McCarthy had the second-year player moving all over the place Sunday.
The Packers unveiled a package with Cobb in the backfield, as he lined up there, unofficially, 19 times. He also lined up in the slot and on the outside of formations. For Cobb, the bigger role was a welcome change from last year -- when he was fifth among the Packers wide receivers in playing time.
“I didn’t know how many I was going to have,” Cobb said about the high number of snaps he played. “Like I’ve always said, though, whatever opportunity comes I’m going to make the most of it. I got to play a little more than I even thought I would tonight. I was fortunate enough to have some balls thrown my way and be able to make things happen.”
Cobb was quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target in the game. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Cobb caught all nine targets thrown his way for 77 yards, both career-high totals. His previous single-game high for targets? Four.
“That’s what we’ve been talking a lot about,” Rodgers said of Cobb’s impact. “He’s a big-time player, a great punt returner obviously. We’re going to try to find ways to get him matched up on positive mismatches for him out there. The more opportunities we can give him in space, there’s a lot of good plays out there he had.”
On the Packers second quarter scoring drive, Cobb had four catches for 26 yards before Rodgers cashed in with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jermichael Finley.
“It definitely is a confidence builder coming in opening week and have a few catches and be able to contribute a little bit,” Cobb said. “(Aaron and I) this offseason worked on that chemistry a lot. Me getting inside his head, him getting inside my head and working together and getting a better understanding of each other and what we’re both trying to accomplish.”
Cobb’s next big impact came in the fourth quarter. With the Packers trailing, 23-7, 49ers punter Andy Lee boomed a 61-yard punt that Cobb caught at his 25-yard line, curled around to the right and down the sideline for the score.
“I just saw the field open up to the wide side and just tried racing to the sidelines,” Cobb said. “I got three good blocks on the way.”
The touchdown celebration was put on hold after a flag was thrown for an apparent block in the back. After much discussion, the NFL’s replacement referees picked up the flag and the touchdown stood. It was unclear why he flag was thrown, on but it appeared on replays that Packers’ rookie Terrell Manning did block one of the 49ers in the back.
“To be honest with you, I never even got a chance to look at it,” Manning said. “Immediately after I made the block, I started celebrating, and then when I saw the flag, I realized that it possibly could’ve went either way…Whether it was a clean block or not, the refs picked it up and said that it was.”
ESPN Stats and Information said that with Cobb’s return on Sunday, and his 108-yard kickoff return in the opener against the New Orleans Saints last year, he became the first player with a Week 1 punt or kick return touchdown in consecutive seasons since Roscoe Parrish did it in 2007-’08 with the Buffalo
Asked how it feels like to be a Week 1 return specialist, Cobb laughed and said, “Lets make that a full-season return specialist this year.”
The Packers won’t be able to dwell on the loss to the 49ers. They have a quick turnaround with the Chicago Bears coming to Lambeau Field on Thursday. And Cobb thinks that’s a good thing.
“Definitely is,” Cobb said. “I think all of our mindsets, when we leave this locker room tonight, are going to shift to the Bears.”
Zach Heilprin covers the Packers for WBEV and WXRO radio in Beaver Dam, sister stations of ESPNWisconsin. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zachheilprin.