GREEN BAY, Wis. – Looking back on it, it’s hard to say what was the most impressive thing about Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown pass to Davante Adams in the 2016 opener at Jacksonville.
Was it the pass, with defensive back Jalen Ramsey trying to pull down Rodgers from behind and another rusher coming free at the last moment?
Was it that Rodgers, exactly 50 months or 1,522 days later, could recall the protection call?
Or was it that his amazing throw wouldn’t be near the top of his list of personal favorites?
“I don’t know if it’s a top-five play,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “I feel like I’ve thrown some Hail Marys and then the play that Corey (Linsley) held on in Chicago, I feel like are some of my top ones.”
With Green Bay falling behind 17-14 just before halftime in the withering 90-degree Jacksonville heat, Rodgers drove the Packers right down the field. On third-and-10 from the Jaguars’ 29 with 20 seconds remaining, Jacksonville sent a five-man rush at Rodgers. Running back James Starks picked up the blitzing linebacker but nobody had Ramsey.
“We were running a protection scheme that, based on the scheme, it was a really good blitz because we weren’t able to sort the protection to the side of the pressure,” Rodgers recalled. “So, we were in 16 protection, which is a mike (linebacker)-declared protection, so the back has the will (linebacker) and the nickel. They brought both the will and the nickel on that play, so we were hot. I actually assumed based on the movement of the mike on that play that we were going to maybe fall into the protection. That’s why I didn’t step up until late.”
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Rodgers indeed stepped up in the pocket and almost escaped Ramsey. Almost. Ramsey had the athleticism to adjust to get a hold of Rodgers’ jersey and then the strength to hold on. Just as defensive lineman Jared Odrick broke free of guard T.J. Lang to get in Rodgers’ face, Rodgers somehow had the arm strength to throw the ball 35 yards to Adams.
“The concept was such that I knew I had one-on-one with Davante,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t quite realize how much he had my jersey until I saw the film later after the game.”
Davon House’s coverage was tight – too tight, as it turned out, as he was flagged for pass interference – but the throw was impeccable and indefensible.
“I remember that play,” House said on Wednesday night. “As you can see, it does not matter how good the coverage is when it comes to 12 at QB. When he is on like in that throw, there is not much you can do. We had a blitz called, and I figure with some pressure, we will be able to get to him and he would not be able to either get the ball off or it will have to be a quick pass. Somehow, he was able to step back with Ramsey all over him and throw a perfect ball.”
The go-ahead touchdown was a big one, with Green Bay ultimately holding onto a 27-23 win when Damarious Randall made a huge stop on fourth-and-1 from the 14. For Adams, who was on the receiving end of the aforementioned touchdown at Chicago in 2014, it was the play that jump-started his season and, perhaps, his career. Dogged by an ankle injury in 2015, Adams averaged just 9.7 yards per catch with one touchdown. In 2016, it was the first of his 12 touchdowns.
“I just remember it being right before halftime and us needing to score, and then Aaron pulled off some more of his majestic stuff,” Adams said. “It was a little bit similar to the play he had against Chicago, which would have been my first career touchdown. Kind of reminded me of that a little bit for him in the backfield pulling off some of his magic, making people miss, getting thrown down by Ramsey one-hand just twisting him around, and then throwing it and getting the ball all the way down to me, and kind of having to make a contested catch on Davon House in the end zone. That was a big touchdown for me, because that was my first score coming off of the season I wish I could have back.”
On Sunday, Rodgers and Adams will lead the Packers into a game against Jacksonville. During the second half of that 2016 season, Rodgers propelled himself into the MVP conversation with his run-the-table dominance. In 2020, he’s right back in the MVP mix.
“It was definitely a good memory there, and an amazing catch,” Rodgers said. “If you watch it back, House was kind of on Davante’s back, and to catch it right on the goal line was pretty special. But, yeah, that was a fun play.”