Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley (88) makes a 10-yard touchdown catch against Chicago Bears safety Craig Steltz (20) during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game at Soldier Field in Chicago. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears tried to cover Jermichael Finley with a safety.
They tried a linebacker.
They tried a cornerback with a safety over the top.
Many around the NFL knew the Green Bay Packers had a budding star in their fourth-year tight end. Everyone knows now.
For the second straight season at Soldier Field, Finley could not be covered. On Sunday, he posted the first three-touchdown game of his career in the Packers’ 27-17 victory.
The Bears’ Cover-2 defense has proven it can do many things to slow down an offense like the one quarterback Aaron Rodgers directs, but it hasn’t shown it can stop Finley. Last year here in Week 3, Finley had nine catches for 115 yards in the Packers’ penalty-filled loss. Two weeks later, he sustained a season-ending knee injury, so he missed the regular-season rematch and the NFC championship game against the Bears.
“When a team’s going to play a lot of Cover-2, the tight end’s always going to be a big part of the plan,” said backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who knows the game plan inside and out. “You’re going to have him against a backer playing a zone. Usually, it’s not going to be a big day for a wide receiver split to the outside. Usually, you’ve got to look to your tight end, and Jermichael’s a playmaker. And when he’s split outside and they have safeties on him, they’re in man coverage, and you always think Jermichael’s going to be a viable option.”
Sure enough, Rodgers threw Finley’s way eight times, and he had seven catches for 85 yards.
Finley accounted for all the Packers’ scoring except for a third-quarter field goal. His touchdown receptions were for 6 yards against backup safety Brandon Meriweather on the game’s opening series, 7 yards against linebacker Lance Briggs in the second quarter and a 10-yarder in the fourth quarter in which cornerback Tim Jennings passed him off to another backup safety, Craig Steltz, who had no chance against fade from Rodgers.
“He’s a great player,” said Rodgers, who was 28-for-38 passing for 297 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. “I think his best ball is still in front of him. I think a couple of those plays, he might not have been doing the right thing, but we made it work. He’s a big-time player, got incredible athleticism, and the more he studies, the more he’s going to get the ball.”
Not that the Packers needed any more reason to look Finley’s way but when the Bears announced that both of their starting safeties, Chris Harris and Major Wright, would be inactive because of injuries, it was a green light for Finley.
“Of course we were going to attack them,” Finley said.
In some ways, this was Finley’s NFC championship game. He watched that game in street clothes last January, the same way he watched the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV victory, making for easy motivation.
“I thought a little about that game,” Finley said. “I was going to come out pretty hyped. My goal was just to go out there and catch every ball thrown to me, and I guess, like I say, look at the film. That’s what I did.”
Finley was off to a decent start this season with games of three catches for 53 yards against New Orleans and five for 68 last week at Carolina. But he hadn’t found the end zone yet, and hadn’t found a matchup he and Rodgers liked as much as this one.
Coach Mike McCarthy moved Finley around, using him in line, in the slot and split out wide. Finley is only in his fourth pro season, and his early years were a bit rocky in part due to his immaturity, but he has become one of the most versatile tight ends in the league.
“Jermichael Finley’s the veteran of our tight end group, which is kind of funny if you were there for the first couple of years,” McCarthy said. “Jermichael’s grown up a lot. He’s an immense talent.”
As with most things Finley, though, the game wasn’t without a bit of controversy.
Known for his outspokenness, especially on social media outlets, a tweet appeared during the fourth quarter, at 6:08 p.m., from Finley’s Twitter account, @JermichaelF88. It was directed at @NFLONFOX and said: “Apparently the @NFLONFOX crew has not seen me live. Everyone needs a job, mine is proving people wrong. YOTTO.”
After the game, Finley first said it was something he pre-posted to appear during the game but later said one of his marketing agents probably did it. Either way, it appears there was no way Finley did it himself live.
Still, given that NFL players are barred from tweeting during games, he could be subject to discipline from the league because it appeared as though it was coming directly from him.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.