GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers faced a do-or-die third-and-10 from their 6-yard line in the waning moments of Sunday’s game at Indianapolis.
Where would Aaron Rodgers throw the football? To his favorite target, Davante Adams? To trusted tight end Robert Tonyan?
No, he threw it deep to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The low-percentage play – according to the Next Gen Stats provided by Zebra Technologies, the play had only a 12.1 percent completion probability – resulted in a 47-yard gain. The fourth-most-improbable completion of the year set up the Packers for the tying touchdown.
“I think based on the formation that we were in there, I feel like it really gave us a good opportunity because it gave us a high corner to the side of Marquez,” Rodgers said after the game. “On the sidelines before that drive, I said, ‘There’s going to be a point in this drive when I’m going to throw one up to you, and you’ve got to come down with it.’ Sure enough, it was third-and-10 backed up. He’s so damn fast. Even though I got it out early and threw it high, I still underthrew him. But it was a really nice catch and got us going at that point.”
More than the catch itself, the play showed Rodgers’ increasing trust in the talented but not-always-reliable third-year receiver. That trust isn’t going away after Valdes-Scantling’s killer fumble in overtime that set up the Colts for victory.
“This is the ultimate team sport and I don’t think there’s anybody in that locker room that doesn’t have Marquez’s back,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Monday. “He did so many good things yesterday. We wouldn’t even have been in a position to win the game without his efforts. There were so many assists. I think of the touchdown pass to Davante on the bubble screen that we threw to him. It was great blocking by both Marquez and by Allen. His effort was definitely there throughout the entire game, just clearing stuff out for underneath receivers. There was so much good and, you know, he had one bad play. And like we say to all our guys, it never comes down to one play. I have more confidence in Marquez because of the game, just because all of the little things he’s been doing.”
Valdes-Scantling was the second of three receivers selected by the Packers in the 2018 draft and one of 34 receivers drafted overall. Fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore was the 15th, Valdes-Scantling the 19th and Equanimeous St. Brown the 26th. Of the drafted receivers, Valdes-Scantling is ninth with 89 receptions, seventh with 1,551 yards, first with a 17.4-yard average and 10th with eight touchdowns.
Of the 24 receivers selected in Day 3 of the draft (Rounds 4 through 7), Valdes-Scantling has 600 yards more than every receiver and more than twice as many yards as all but Falcons sixth-rounder Russell Gage (946 yards).
Meanwhile, of the 10 receivers selected before MVS, he has more yards than three of them.
To be sure, Valdes-Scantling can be a maddening player. Of the 68 receivers targeted at least 40 times this season, he has the highest drop rate, according to Pro Football Focus. And Sunday’s fumble – the first of his NFL career – was a killer. However, the Packers probably wouldn’t have been in position to win the game without his deep catch, just as they might have suffered an embarrassing upset loss at the hands of Jacksonville the week before without his excellent performance.
After Sunday’s loss, Valdes-Scantling received an upwelling of support from his teammates even as he said he received death threats for his fumble.
“Social media gives cowards the right to say whatever they want with no consequences, so I guess that’s one of those things with the profession that we’re in, you’ve got to take it for what it is, don’t let it affect you. It doesn’t affect me. People can say whatever they want as long as people in this building and in my family, they all care about me, that’s all that matters.”
With his elite speed and game-changing ability, not to mention the lack of depth at the position, the Packers are going to continue to roll with Valdes-Scantling. They’ll deal with the occasional miscue in order to reap the big-play rewards.
“It’s all about growth,” he said. “It’s all about getting better and being better every day, being the best version of yourself. As long as I’m a better version than I was the day before, that’s all I care about.”