World’s Best Preview: With Rodgers and Lewis, ‘Real Recognizes Real’

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Marcedes Lewis has been there and done that. He’s been selected for a Pro Bowl. He’s had big seasons as a receiver and dominated as a blocker.

But there’s no question that career touchdown No. 34 – his first from Aaron Rodgers – holds a special place in his heart. And not just because Rodgers telegraphed it by calling out Lewis’ “Big Dog” nickname before throwing the ball to Lewis for the score against the Giants.

“It’s everything,” Lewis said on Thursday. “Obviously, I didn’t come here to do that. I came here to fit in wherever they needed me, whether it was my leadership, me blocking at the point of attack or catching touchdowns or catching balls down the seam. It doesn’t matter. I’ve always been that way. It felt good in that moment because me and ‘12’ are pretty close. We talk about a lot of things about how we should lead the team and always being accountable and doing what you’re supposed to do, being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there. It was really dope.”

Rodgers’ bond with former receivers like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb was forged during years of battles together. Lewis, on the other hand, joined team only a year ago. He’s merely a role player on a team that revolves around the talents of a two-time MVP quarterback and face of the franchise. But their bond cuts through all that. They are wise pros who view the team and leadership in the same way.

“I just think the way we lead is pretty similar,” Lewis said. “We’re not rah-rah leaders. We’re not going to be yelling at guys when they drop a ball or making them feel bad at practice when they don’t do something right. I think we like to lead by being accountable and lead by example. I feel like that’s how you lead from the front. I learned more from people who have said less. We both share that. It’s a situation where real recognizes real.”

That’s what made Sunday’s touchdown pass – a relatively meaningless one in a blowout victory over a bad team – so special to both players.

“He’s a true professional,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “I just think last year was such a telling season. You’ve got a guy who’s been to Pro Bowls, who’s had a double-digit touchdown season and to have a very limited role in the passing game, but to see his attitude the entire year and his leadership opportunities taken the way they were taken was a thing of beauty. As an older player, I already had a ton of respect for him but it just went way up when I saw his approach every single day. And like I’ve said here many times, the key I think for him this year is really feeling like he has a role in the offense. When you give a role to somebody, you full them up with purpose and energy and you give them a direction, and it’s allowed him to be an even bigger leader and role model for the guys in this room.”

One example pointed to by Rodgers were the “incredible words” spoken by Lewis in the moments after a blowout loss at San Francisco. In a huge showdown that could have put the Packers in pole position for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, they were outclassed on national television 37-8 by San Francisco.

While what’s said in the locker room stays in the locker room, Lewis pulled back the veil on his message.

“Obviously, we had got our teeth kicked in,” Lewis recalled. “I’m looking around the locker room and there were a lot of guys with their heads down while (coach Matt) LaFleur’s talking. Remember, at that time, we were 8-3. You’ve got to be able to understand and be able to assess life in general, right? It’s a thin line between perception and reality. There are a lot of people who are really struggling outside of this locker room. It’s a game. We’re 8-3 now at that time. Pick your heads up and let’s continue to work hard. There comes a point where, as much as you don’t want to think about it, you can be riding high. There comes a point where things like that happen.

“Sometimes, you have to take a step back. Sometimes, a good step back helps you shoot better, you know what I mean? I like to use that analogy because it’s real. So, I basically was like, ‘Hey, the way we do small things is the way we do all things.’ Not just things we’re doing on the football field but housekeeping things: making sure the stuff that you’re doing off the field is conducive to winning a championship. That’s what my speech was basically based on. There’s nothing more important during football season than playing ball. Everything that you’re doing outside of this building, inside the building, should be geared toward playing ball. You’ve got five months, six months to chill and do all that other stuff outside of football. Why not invest everything you have?”

It wasn’t a premeditated message crafted with the outcome established and the clock winding down. In fact:

“That was my first time,” he said. “I just felt like that’s what we needed at that moment in time. I try to lead from the front by being accountable and doing things the right way. I don’t know. It was the timing. It was time for that type of speech. However we were going to move on from that or if that was going to be something to propel us forward, so be it. I just felt like I had to get that off my chest.”

Afterward, Lewis said teammates thanked him for the message. Not that that was Lewis’ goal.

“I did things with no agenda. I didn’t do it for a thank you,” he said. “I did it because I felt like that was the right thing to do.”

Due in part to the presence of Rodgers, Lewis signed a one-year contract with Green Bay last offseason but seemingly was forgotten on the bench by former coach Mike McCarthy. With a new coach in LaFleur, Lewis decided to re-sign and rejoin Rodgers. Lewis was given a defined role on the team to help coax him back for a 14th NFL season. His playing time has gone from 17.7 percent last season to 43.3 percent this year, his production going from three receptions to 13.

“I wish there was a million guys like that because he’s a very good dude,” said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who spent time with Lewis in Jacksonville.

The stats and praise-filled stories don’t matter to Lewis, though. He’s gone to the playoffs just twice – in 2007 and in 2017, when the Jaguars were just one half from going to the Super Bowl before falling to New England.

Perhaps spurred on by Lewis’ words at San Francisco, Green Bay bounced back to trounce the Giants last week. At 9-3 and in first place in the NFC North, Lewis can’t ignore the possibilities in front of the team.

“It’s inevitable for you to look forward but, at the same time, it’s a very good conference,” he said. “The division has been tough. We really have to stay focused. These next four, we really need every single one of them. That starts with Sunday. We really need this game. Every next game is the biggest game. These next four, we have to continue to get better at something. Just a little bit better so, by the time the regular season’s done, there’s no doubt.”