Cut twice over summer, James Jones fits in right away in Packers return
CHICAGO — James Jones was looking for his wife, Tamika. Only she could understand what the last week felt like, what it meant, what had happened, how sometimes the worst thing can lead to somewhere better. Or even somewhere great. He wanted to share all that, if only for a minute, before the Packers flew back to Wisconsin.
But Jones was trapped. He had already tugged on a white dress shirt and a green suit and skinny green tie. He had waded through the mass of reporters that crowded around his locker Sunday in the cramped visitors’ locker room at Soldier Field. He had stopped for one final interview, with SI.com, in the hallway, so close to the door and yet so far away. “Excuse me,” Jones said, as he inched toward the exit. “I’ve gotta go see my wife.”
And, he was asked, what are you going to tell her?
“I love you,” Jones said. “And, look at how it all worked out.”
“It” would be the last seven days. They were intense, emotional, a little much. James was cut by the Giants, forced into free agency and signed by the team that drafted him in 2007, the Packers, the franchise that molded him into a solid NFL receiver with nearly 5,000 career receiving yards. A career that seemed stalled last weekend kicked into overdrive on Sunday, in the Packers' 31–23 victory over the Bears.
James wasn’t on Green Bay’s roster a week ago. Then he hauled in the Packers’ first touchdown of the season, in the first quarter, on a 13-yard pass from his old friend Aaron Rodgers. Then he caught another TD in the second quarter that didn’t count, but only because it was nullified by a questionable holding call. Then he managed a third trip into the end zone in the third quarter, and this was his second score that counted, a one-yard snag from Rodgers that put the Packers ahead, 17–13, and for good.
What a week: released, re-signed, three (almost) touchdown catches in the first three quarters of his return to the team he played for until 2013. “Nobody wants to be told they can’t do the job,” Jones said. “I’ve been alright. I’m a firm believer everything happens for a reason. I’m a tough dude.”
When the Packers arrived here Sunday, Rodgers took over one corner of the visitors’ locker room, his three bags tucked into two cubicles. Green Bay set Jones up next to him, in the locker to Rodgers’s left. The two, Jones said, had kept in touch, even after Jones went to Oakland in 2014 and caught 73 passes for 666 yards, and even after the Raiders released him and Jones tried to catch on with the Giants this summer. Rodgers was always one of his first calls. That included after the Giants—who, to be fair, are deep at receiver—let him go last weekend.
The re-signing of Jones benefitted everyone—except the Bears. It gave Rodgers a third wideout to target beyond Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. That’s especially important in light of what Cobb said afterward, that he is still experiencing pain in his injured shoulder. Jones also forced the Bears to use one more defender in coverage, away from the line of scrimmage, which allowed Eddie Lacy to rumble for 85 yards and a score. Jones also gifted the Packers some measure of replacement for star receiver Jordy Nelson, whom they lost to a torn ACL before the season started. And the Packers, in turn, provided Jones with work and the ability to again catch passes from last season’s league MVP.
Except the Bears.
Rodgers said it felt like 2012, when Jones grabbed 14 touchdown receptions to lead the league, ahead of players like Dez Bryant and A.J. Green and Rob Gronkowski. Speaking of 2012 all over again, tight end Richard Rodgers gave Jones back No. 89, no questions asked. The best part, for Packers fans, anyway, is that both Jones and Aaron Rodgers said they were not surprised by what happened Sunday. They expected Jones to play a significant role. That resulted in four receptions on four targets, 51 receiving yards and two scores. “No disrespect to James, but I don’t think it was that out of character,” Rodgers said. “Like [with] many other guys that have gone elsewhere and flourished. Jones is one of those guys that really feels comfortable in our offense.”
Comfort all around, then. The Packers' offense looked like, well, the Packers' offense. Nelson or no Nelson, Jones or no Jones, the Packers throw the ball around and confuse defenses with their sheer number of playmakers. The constant is Rodgers, and his ability work with what he has. “I know it seems like I’ve been gone 10 years,” Jones said, smiling. “But I’m only a year removed. The offense is real similar.”
Last January, Jones watched the Seahawks' miracle comeback against the Packers, the 19–7 lead that evaporated in the final minutes. He said it made him feel sick to his stomach.
Green Bay will host Seattle in Week 2, next Sunday, and Jones and Rodgers will double their season preparation time before then. But Jones wasn’t worried about that this week. He finished his group interview and cut down the hallway, answered a few more questions and pushed through to the door. Tamika was out there somewhere, and it was time, for a minute, anyway, to celebrate.
So much promise lay ahead.