GREEN BAY, Wis. – Whenever Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams go their separate ways, plays like the 41-yard completion that set up the game-clinching score last week at Chicago will be what the Green Bay Packers will miss the most.
With the Bears having cut Green Bay’s lead to 17-14 midway through the fourth quarter, the Packers face a second-and-10 from their 38. At the line of scrimmage, Rodgers saw the Bears’ coverage. Adams’ saw the Bears coverage. And with nothing more than a nod, they went in their way-back machine and unearthed a Mike McCarthy-era adjustment.
“That’s what makes us special, man,” Adams said this week.
On the play, the Packers lined up with an empty backfield. To the right side, Randall Cobb was aligned just outside right tackle Billy Turner, running back Aaron Jones was wide right and Adams was in between.
Using their amazing recall and with the play clock winding down, Rodgers and Adams incredibly went back to something they ran a handful of years ago. They knew a big play was about to happen.
“That’s the reason why we’re getting to the play,” Adams said. “And that’s why, when I’m lined up there and I told you I’m sitting there already thinking about the adjustment he gets me to, so I’m sitting there looking at him, it’s already won now because I know the coverage. That’s why I’m anticipating it because I know what coverage it is and, based of his leverage, the only guy that could help was inside and my route is getting back outside. So, it doesn’t really matter if he’s inside or not because I’ve just got to beat this guy and if I beat him bad, then it’ll be wide open.”
Adams beat his guy bad.
Cobb ran a post and attracted the attention of safety Eddie Jackson, and Jones ran an in-breaking route. That cleared out the right side for Adams, who torched top cornerback Jaylon Johnson at the line of scrimmage with a jump cut to the left before taking his route back to the right. When Rodgers was ready to throw the ball, Adams was behind the defender by 4 yards.
Jackson recovered in time to prevent the touchdown but not before a huge gain to the Bears’ 21.
“It’s really fun being a coach, especially here, when you have a lot of veteran guys that have played a lot of football,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said when asked what he’s thinking when his offense’s stars go off-script. “Heck, in practice today, you think a play is going to be run and, all of a sudden, something else happens and it’s a real cool completion down the field, and you don’t know whether to celebrate it or make sure, does everybody know? But that’s what makes us grow as an offense. I always think that we give the foundation to them, and then they own the foundation after that and that offense becomes them. They’re the ones that are out there playing, so you want them to always feel like they’re playing football. We’re not handcuffing them or keeping them just to specific rules. That’s when you can really see an offense start blossoming.”
To be sure, Rodgers is one of the great quarterbacks in NFL history and Adams is trending toward becoming one of the great receivers of all-time. They have amazing physical tools. But their connection goes beyond spectacular throws and route-running. It’s also about memory. Or, more accurately, recall. Memory, as Adams described it, is the ability to remember something. Recall is what happened on Sunday. When he got to the line of scrimmage, his mind flashed back to “something that’s super-, super-old.” He hoped Rodgers’ mind would flash back to the same thing. And, in the heat of the moment, it did.
“Recall is being able to do something on the spot with a second left on the play clock,” Adams said. “He’s talked to me a lot about that and allowed me to train myself. You’ve obviously got to be ready but there are certain times where I’ll be looking through the game plan and I’ll see a certain play and I’ll be like, ‘You know, that play may not work, but we may be putting it in for a certain audible off of that play.’ So, I start training my brain in that moment: What are certain things he would want to get to if we get Cover 0, if we got Cover 1? It’s a lot of pointless things that you may never use it, it may just be a waste of five minutes of time, but I’d rather be prepared and be ready for that moment just in case it comes.”
It's that type of connection that drives the Packers’ offense today and will be so thoroughly missed down the road. Jordan Love might be the next great quarterback. Amari Rodgers or some future draft pick might be the next great receiver. But what they won’t have are the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of reps together. There’s no teaching experience, no teaching what happened on a critical play at Soldier Field. It was two transcendent players making the type of magic that only great players can create.
“I told him in the locker room, the thing that I will miss 20 years down the line is moments where you make a subtle adjustment, you look over at the guy and it’s a stud like 17 and he just went like this (head nod),” Rodgers said after the game. “Like the whole body started tingling. I just knew it was going to be one of those special plays.”