Green Bay Packers receiver James Jones breaks away for an 83-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
The Green Bay Packers had played nearly 42 minutes Sunday, and nine points were all they could show for it. Twice, they had penetrated the Detroit Lions’ 15-yard line; twice, they came away with field goals.
With 3 minutes, 23 seconds left in the third quarter, the Lions — sans Calvin Johnson, aka their offense — were within a touchdown as the Packers clung to a 9-3 lead. And the Lambeau Field-record crowd of 78,200 was getting antsy.
That’s when Aaron Rodgers put the Lions on ice with an audible that found James Jones all alone along the left sideline for an 83-yard touchdown and a 16-3 advantage. With the way the toothless Lions’ offense had been playing to that point, it pretty much sealed the Packers’ 22-9 victory.
When asked if he could visualize the touchdown coming out of the huddle, Jones said: “No, because it wasn’t the play in the huddle. (Rodgers) checked to it at the line of scrimmage. We’d been telling him they were playing Cover-2 a lot (and) the safety hasn’t been getting over to the outside receiver. He got us in the right play, double post. (Randall) Cobb held the safety and I was able to get outside the corner and make the play.”
Jones easily beat cornerback Chris Houston down the sideline and, true to form, the safety couldn’t get over in time. Jones made the catch in stride and zoomed down the sideline before having to cut it inside for the rest of his personal-best 83-yard touchdown catch.
“We gave up 83 yards,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “I don’t go through and assign blame or anything else. We broke down and gave up an 83-yarder. I think that is bad enough. I am not in the business of scapegoating anybody or putting up stuff like that.
“I’ll let all the experts explain what happened on the play.”
Here’s how one expert explained it.
“Yeah, that was big for us,” Rodgers said. “We ran it pretty good today and that set up a lot of stuff we did in the passing game. And we just made a subtle adjustment.
“It’s often the things you don’t see on the play that make the play. Randall did a great job of avoiding a defender in the slot, getting up on the safety quick, influencing him in that Cover-2. And James was screaming on the sidelines, made a great catch, was in the right spot and was able to make him miss there on about the 10-yard line.”
Did Jones fear getting caught or tiring out before reaching the end zone?
“I was hoping, because I knew I’d never hear the end of it from everybody in here,” he said. “I’m like a little kid, so I’m going to zigzag until there’s no more grass to run. I’m going to make sure I get in the end zone.”
With his big day, Jones continued a personal Lambeau Field tear. Over his past three home games, the seventh-year receiver has 22 catches for 405 yards and two touchdowns.
And since being shut out in the season opener at San Francisco, Jones has become a large part of the offense. On Sunday, he finished with four receptions for 127 yards. On the Packers’ final scoring drive in the fourth quarter, he had a 39-yard catch on third-and-3 with Houston so draped over him that the Packers were able to decline the pass-interference penalty.
Later in that drive, Jones nearly added another spectacular touchdown catch, this one a 27-yarder down the left sideline that saw him catch the ball inside the 5-yard line. But an official replay showed his second foot barely touched the end zone sideline, and the touchdown was nullified.
“The opportunities outside first started with the late safety rolling down into the box and them playing soft on the outside,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “As the coverages got tighter, we were able to attack deeper.
“We wish we probably would have been able to hit a couple more of those, but James had a big day. He had the one at the end of the game that he didn’t get the second foot down, which would have been another big play.”
Jones has 19 catches for 339 yards and two touchdowns this season, giving the Packers three receivers — Jordy Nelson (371) and Cobb (325) — with 300 yards or more. Add a running game that is averaging 141 yards per game, and opposing defenses might have trouble game planning for a team that had been relatively one-dimensional.
“It takes really the first couple quarters of the season to figure out what your identity is going to be,” Rodgers said. “We are a spread offense, though. We’re a three-receiver offense, Jermichael (Finley) adds a fourth receiver option there and we’re going to make teams declare what they’re going to do. We’re going to play a lot of high safeties and stay in two-high or roll down late. We’re going to make you tackle a 230-pound back (in Eddie Lacy).”
— firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.