The national Sunday night audience likely needed to web search the Packers roster to identify Aaron Rodgers’ targets.
Jarrett Boykin? Myles White? Andrew Quarless? Who?
Without three of its top four contributors Sunday against the Vikings at Mall of America Field, Green Bay was left with Jordy Nelson and a bunch of little-known receivers.
And yet Rodgers turned those unfamiliar players into an effective pass attack, going 24-for-29 with 285 passing yards and two touchdowns in the 44-31 victory.
“I think it’s shaping up to be one of Aaron’s best years,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Aaron has had a lot of challenges Monday through Sunday that don’t show up on a stat sheet. Just the change and trying to get on a same page with these younger players and trusting the game plan. Because when you are as productive as we’ve been, there’s such a comfort with our no-huddle, and we really felt like we were rolling on all cylinders. So now we’ve kind of had to go in a different direction, and he has to command it. This obviously wouldn’t work without him.”
The Packers didn’t punt, scoring on seven of their nine drives. They accomplished that without Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb and James Jones, who all sat because of injuries. They have combined for 1,027 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season.
If you subtract Nelson, the rest of the Packers receiving corps consisted of five players with a combined 202 receiving yards before the game, yet Rodgers still found a way to effectively pass.
“I don’t think you can expect that at all,” Rodgers said of the offensive performance without some key contributors. “But you expect greatness out of our guys. We expect guys to be prepared, be accountable for the routes they’re running or blocks they’re making, and guys did a great job tonight.”
Nelson was Rodgers’ main target with seven receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns, but Boykin posted productive outings in consecutive games. He followed his career-high 103-yard performance last week against the Browns with five catches for 89 yards.
Rodgers avoided a sack on third-and-16 late in the third quarter and found Boykin wide open near the middle of the field. Boykin lunged for the ball a few yards shy of the first-down marker, but since he was untouched, he got back up and leapt past the 36-yard line.
The heady play kept the drive alive, which ended six plays later on James Starks’ 25-yard touchdown and gave the Packers a comfortable 38-17 lead early in the fourth.
“I think [Rodgers] was flushed out the pocket; it wasn’t intended to be that long,” Boykin said. “But I’m glad he kept his eyes downfield and was able to look for me.”
On that same drive, Rodgers hit White on a quick screen for 15 yards on the final play of the third quarter. White nearly quadrupled his season yardage with 35 yards on five catches. The rookie was promoted from the practice squad last week and had one catch for 9 yards against the Browns.
“I feel like it can only get better with us having those repetitions together,” Boykin said of the receivers’ timing with Rodgers.
There’s no “brainwashing” necessary, to use Vikings receiver Greg Jennings’ term on how he felt receivers are viewed in Green Bay. Most of the credit goes to Rodgers this season for the offense’s success, and he made that clear to Jennings and the rest of the country.