Nelson's career day proves his worth
Over on the sideline, Randall Cobb kept Jordy Nelson informed.
Receivers bind together when a major milestone is within reach. Part of their own exclusive club, the excitement is a shared experience. So as Nelson's receiving yardage kept piling up on a historic day at Lambeau Field, Cobb kept him updated.
One hundred yards, he'd tell Nelson.
One hundred fifty.
One hundred ninety.
By the time the Green Bay Packers lined up for third-and-3 at their 35-yard line, Nelson knew the situation. His team, clinging to a touchdown lead inside the 2-minute mark, needed a first down to drain the clock and capture its first win of the season.
Nelson needed 6 yards.
"I just didn't want to get stuck on 195," Nelson said.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers found Nelson on the left side for 15 yards, pushing him over the 200 mark for the first time in his career. It was a big play for several reasons, most importantly sealing Green Bay's 31-24 win against the New York Jets before a home-opener crowd of 78,041 at Lambeau Field.
Those 15 yards also pushed Rodgers past former Packers quarterback Bart Starr on the franchise's career passing yardage. Rodgers is now No. 2 on the list, behind Brett Favre.
Later, Nelson called it an honor to be on the receiving end of his quarterback's career milestone. As Rodgers knelt twice to expire the clock, Nelson thought of his own.
In his first home game after signing a four-year contract extension worth $39 million in July, Nelson showed why those millions were put to good use.
"It's fun. It's enjoyable. It's what, I guess, needed to be done to win the game," Nelson said. "That's all that matters. If it proves your worth, I don't think that matters at all."
It was fitting Nelson and Rodgers reached separate milestones on the same play.
Together, the receiver and quarterback pulled Green Bay back from an 18-point, first-quarter deficit. There were the two catches for 30 yards in the second quarter, when the Packers began to turn momentum. There was the 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter, one play after a Jets field goal tied the score.
Before the game's deciding touchdown, Nelson knew a big play was brewing. He saw Jets cornerback Dee Milliner's backside facing the sideline. Nelson was running an out route, heading the opposite direction Milliner was looking.
He expected to cross up the defensive back, forcing him off balance.
"At that point, I was pretty confident we were going to be able to hit it," Nelson said. "Didn't know where the safety would be, whether he'd be playing over the top or what. Aaron threw it in a perfect spot for me to catch it, cut back and get the score."
From start to finish, Nelson was the security blanket Rodgers needed. When a big play was in demand, he was there.
Nelson finished with nine catches for 209 yards and the touchdown. He was targeted 16 times, more than double any teammate.
"Jordy spoils us," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He plays that way all the time. He practices the same way. He's just a clutch, clutch player."
The Packers' reliance on Nelson was the same game plan used in their opener against the Seattle Seahawks, with one significant difference.
In Seattle, Nelson stayed on the left, exclusively matched up against Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell. Without Richard Sherman shutting down half the field Sunday, Nelson was free to roam.
Nelson had his moments against Maxwell. In the end, Maxwell's interception on a pass that bounced through his hands was the defining play that led to 0-1.
The Packers had an extended week to prepare for the Jets. Nelson said he didn't think about the interception over the past 10 days. Regardless, his highlights against the Jets more than atoned for the opener.
Standing at his locker, rookie receiver Davante Adams already knew what Nelson's big day meant. Adams wasn't surprised.
"Jordy is so deceptive with everything that he does, he's really hard to guard," Adams said. "I feel bad for those DBs out there when a guy lines up across him because he makes things look exactly the same, so you don't know what he's doing. That's a milestone for him to reach the 200-yard mark. Converting at the end, and not going down when he catches the ball, that's what great players do."
Dressed in blue jeans and a green polo, the receiver was ushered into the main room for a formal postgame news conference Sunday. The spotlight was on him.
Nelson preferred it wasn't.
"I hate this," Nelson told reporters.
Eight minutes later, he exited. But not before wishing reporters a "great day." Nelson is blue collar. Despite a poster-boy smile, he prefers to speak in front of his locker, where he's not singled out from the team.
If he keeps this up, Nelson may have no choice. It's hard to catch 200 yards in the NFL and go unnoticed.
"He's pretty impressive," Rodgers said. "You take it for granted sometimes. He's not a big 'me' guy or pumping himself a lot, so he kind of gets overlooked at times. But we know around here what kind of player he is. The people in the league, I think, have a lot of respect for him too.
"They will. Especially if they watch this film."