GREEN BAY, Wis. – In their final practice of the week when Mike McCarthy was coach, the Green Bay Packers would run a segment called “Last Eight Plays.”
The last of those plays was always a Hail Mary. And since the Packers lost at Seattle on the Fail Mary early in 2012 and gave up a touchdown to the Giants on the final play of the first half in the 2011 playoffs, the play really was designed for the defense to bat down the ball to preserve a victory.
“We usually let the defense catch it because we don’t want to get anyone hurt,” tight end Richard Rodgers said matter-of-factly in the victorious locker room.
On the night of Dec. 3, 2015, Rodgers played the role of hero, hauling in Aaron Rodgers’ 61-yard Hail Mary on an untimed down as the Packers shocked the Detroit Lions 27-23 at Ford Field.
“This one, obviously, ranks up there as one of the greatest joys on the field that we’ve had together as a team and personally,” Aaron Rodgers said.
A Hail Mary is organized chaos. For the Packers, the play is meant to go to Davante Adams to take advantage of Adams’ leaping ability.
“It’s written in the playbook that it’s my job to box out and Davante’s supposed to jump and I’m supposed to wait for a tip,” Richard Rodgers said. “I might get an MA (missed assignment) for that. I’ll take it, I guess.”
For Richard Rodgers, the opportunity was too good to pass up. In the end zone, the Lions had six defensive backs against four Packers wide receivers. However, there was no one within 5 yards of Richard Rodgers as he backed into the end zone and made a relatively uncontested catch for the winning points.
As Rodgers tumbled to the ground, Randall Cobb was the first to pile on top, followed by Adams … followed by everyone else.
“Yeah, I couldn’t breathe down there,” Rodgers said. “I thought I was going to die for a second. Randall was the first one on top of me, and then I just felt a bunch of weight come down and I knew the whole team was over there. That was pretty crazy.”
It was the culmination of a huge night for Richard Rodgers, who caught eight passes for 146 yards. Lost in the shuffle of his last-play heroics, he had catches of 26 and 11 yards on the touchdown drive that pulled the Packers within 23-21 with 3:04 remaining.
When Aaron Rodgers walked on the field for their first possession of the second half, they were staring at a 20-0 deficit. They had 78 yards and no third-down conversions and had reached the Lions’ side of the field just once. Down three starting linemen, all looked lost.
Rodgers’ 17-yard touchdown run brought the Packers within 23-21 with 3 minutes to go, but the Lions converted a third-and-12 to burn away most of the time. The Packers took possession at their 21 with 23 seconds to go. Deep incompletions to Randall Cobb and Jared Abbrederis left just 6 seconds on clock. Rodgers’ pass was caught by James Jones, who lateraled to Richard Rodgers who lateraled to Aaron Rodgers, who was tackled by Devin Taylor at the 23-yard line. Taylor, however, was flagged for a facemask, giving the Packers an untimed down from their 39.
“I knew I was going to have to buy some time,” Aaron Rodgers said. “They rushed three guys. In that situation, a lot of times we practice it from like the 50 or maybe the 45. I knew we were around the 40. I knew I was going to have to buy some time to allow them to get in the end zone. I felt good about throwing it in the end zone from the 40, so I was just kind of looking at the rush and moving around. The guys did a good job of holding their blocks, and I knew once I got outside the right, I was going to be able to set up and throw. It was just about finding the 40 and stopping before that, and putting enough height for my guys to get in the end zone. I was looking at Davante after I threw it, and I was pretty excited to see Richard jump in there and catch it.”
On Sunday, the Packers will host the Philadelphia Eagles. Rodgers is a backup tight end for the Eagles. He caught a Hail Mary in the final moments of Monday night’s loss to Seattle.