GREEN BAY — It wasn’t simply that Aaron Rodgers threw the ball to Davante Adams in such a crucial situation, although that was important. No, the most telling indicator of the two-time NFL MVP’s growing confidence in his emerging wide receiver was how he threw it.
Rodgers’ 12-yard touchdown pass to Adams to beat the Dallas Cowboys last week was meaningful on multiple levels. Obviously, it was the winning play with 11 seconds left in the Green Bay Packers’ 35-31 victory. It was also significant because it came on the exact same play as Rodgers had run on the prior snap, as Adams had returned to the huddle and confidently told his quarterback, “Throw it again. Let’s go back to it.”
But most tellingly, it was further evidence of Rodgers’ belief in his fourth-year wide receiver, which has grown each year — and started at an awfully high point to begin with.
“Those two balls that he threw that last drive back to back, the way that he threw the ball, that’s not the same way he would have thrown the ball previously to Davante,” said fellow wide receiver Randall Cobb, who went through the same confidence-building process with the quarterback, and is now one of Rodgers’ closest friends and confidantes. “It would have been (thrown) to a point for Davante to go get it at that point. Both those passes, he kind of laid it up and let Davante go get it.”
Added wide receivers coach Luke Getsy: “That’s four years of being together. We’ve talked a lot about that in here about the relationship and the chemistry that you have between quarterback and receiver. Those type of throws are a big part of that.”
It was Rodgers who, after Adams’ rookie season, publicly predicted in June 2015 that Adams was “going to be a star.” He likened the way he saw Adams, who’d caught just 38 regular-season passes as a rookie, carry himself to the confident styles of two of the teammates Rodgers has respected most in his career — cornerback Charles Woodson and pass-rusher Julius Peppers, both likely Pro Football Hall of Famers.
But the throws to Adams were next-level when it comes to expressing confidence in a player. And that’s why the sequence meant more to Adams than anything else he’s done so far in his NFL career.
“I think with Aaron, he’s so much of a perfectionist and he’s made so many plays with his arm strength and his arm ability to where we kind of have to remind him sometimes (what the receivers can do),” Adams said. “Not in a negative way at all, but to say, ‘Just put it up.’ With him throwing the ball up, it allows me to do my thing and showcase why they drafted me here.
“Anytime you can gain the trust of somebody of that stature and what he’s done in this league, for him to speak of me like that, it just shows that my attention to detail, my want-to just to get better every day, it’s paying off. It’s just really gratifying when you put so much effort into something and a guy like Aaron sees it and takes note of it — and not just takes note of it and tells you, ‘Hey, I’m proud of you for doing that,’ but he actually will throw you a ball in a situation like that. Because that’s when the trust shows.”
Entering Sunday’s game at Minnesota, Adams is tied with Cobb for the team lead in receptions (23) and leads the team in receiving yards (285). His four touchdown catches trail only Jordy Nelson’s NFL-best six.
After an early-season ankle injury robbed him of his off-the-line explosiveness — a crucial part of his game — and led to a crisis of confidence while Nelson was sidelined for the year with a season-ending knee injury, Adams has been fantastic dating back to the start of last season.
In the past 24 games (including playoffs), Adams has caught 114 passes for 1,499 yards and 18 touchdowns. Considering his production in 2015 (50 receptions, 483 yards, one touchdown) and the plethora of other passing-game weapons at Rodgers’ disposal, that’s significant production — and not surprising to those who know him best.
“When this guy walked in the building, the player that you’re seeing right now, what you’ve seen over the past 12 months, this is who we all knew he was,” Cobb said. “The plays that he’s making, he made those in practice all the time. This isn’t anything new for us. This is what we’ve always expected from him.”
Rodgers has long said that practice is where receivers catch his eye and earn his trust; for him, Adams’ performance over the past year is merely confirmation of what he already knew.
“The talent has already been there. The football knowledge has always been there,” Getsy said. “I think the experiences plus the successes that he’s been having are helping him take his game to another level.”
Adams believes there are higher levels to reach. He insisted he’s not thinking about being in the final year of his contract and the kind of payday he could get in free agency but rather enjoying the moment and elevating his game. After what he endured in 2015, Adams said he’s having a blast.
“This is for sure the most fun. When you’re healthy and your team is doing well and you’re playing good football, it’s just an amazing sport. This is why I play it,” Adams said. “Now, with Aaron, his trust with me — or with any quarterback it’s not just what they say about me, but it’s the opportunities that are presented to me. I guess over time you get to the right page to where he’s (thinking), ‘I throw him the ball, he’s going to get it,’ as opposed to ‘I hope he gets it.’ ”