Rookie Adams breaks out of slump in a big way
No words were necessary. The Green Bay Packers' no-huddle offense operates too fast for on-field dialogue. To play receiver with Aaron Rodgers, it takes an advanced course in the quarterback's nonverbal communication.
After nearly one full season, rookie receiver Davante Adams has learned how to read Rodgers' sign language. Adams said his quarterback often shoots him a look between plays.
Whether it's encouraging, reassuring or scolding depends on how the rookie is doing.
"We didn't have any bad looks today," Adams said. "We had all good ones, a little friendly. He just came over and talked to me a little bit. It was good to know that he's proud of what I'm doing out there, because I'm giving him my all."
At times, Adams' all hadn't been good enough. The rookie ran smack into a December wall, staggering down the stretch with four catches, four drops and 29 yards in the season's final four games.
On Sunday, he busted out of his slump at the perfect time.
Adams had a career-high seven catches for 117 yards and maybe the biggest play in Green Bay's 26-21 win against Dallas in the NFC divisional round playoffs at Lambeau Field. His 46-yard touchdown with less than 2 minutes left in the third quarter ended the Cowboys' momentum. The score answered a Dallas touchdown, pulling Green Bay within 21-20 entering the fourth quarter.
Rodgers' remarkable second half on a strained left calf will be remembered a long time in these parts, but it doesn't happen if not for Adams' emergence. The quarterback might not have said much to Adams on the field, but Rodgers pulled the rookie aside in the locker room.
"I just told him how proud I was of him," Rodgers said. "He went through a stretch where he didn't get the ball a lot for about four games, and that was kind of after he had a big game against New England, and everybody was kind of thinking this is when he's going to come on.
"I'm really proud of him. He's a great player. He prepares every week the exact same. You don't see a difference in his attitude, and it says a lot about the kind of guy he is and the kind of player he's going to be for us."
New England was supposed to be Adams' welcome party to the rest of the league. The rookie made scrap work of whoever the Patriots threw at him, leading Green Bay with six catches for a career-high 121 yards.
He also dropped a potential game-sealing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Packers won that game, and Adams never admitted the play shook his confidence. Still, Rodgers' trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose. Adams' struggles with drops in the ensuing weeks didn't help.
Rodgers never called out the rookie in public. But Adams didn't see many opportunities following the New England game. He had only 12 passes thrown to him in the season's final four games, none in the finale against Detroit.
Adams insisted his confidence never faded.
"I'm running the route and doing what I can when the ball is coming to me," he said.
On Sunday, it was more than Adams' numbers against the Cowboys. With Dallas determined to blanket Jordy Nelson — the Packers' top receiver finished with just two catches for 22 yards — Rodgers started looking Adams' way.
Results weren't immediate. The first two passes Rodgers threw to Adams were incomplete. At halftime, Adams had just two catches for 6 yards.
Then Adams made a stunning play, cutting away from Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox's waiting tackle on his way to the 46-yard touchdown. The play looked like physical brilliance, flashing athleticism and surprising balance.
Adams' film study set up everything.
"Flashback to watching some film and seeing the way that they play," Adams said. "They like to commit to first move, so I tried to give them a little something inside and bounce outside and use my speed to get into the end zone."
It was a savvy play expected from a veteran receiver, not a rookie in his first playoff game. Adams wasn't done.
On the next series, his 18-yard catch put Green Bay across midfield. The catch helped set up what would become Green Bay's game-winning touchdown.
Adams' 26-yard catch on third-and-3 with 3 minutes left allowed the Packers to run out the clock. It was a 50-50 pass, receiver and cornerback with an equal chance at the football. Adams' quarterback trusted him to make the play. He didn't disappoint.
"I saw the ball," Adams said, "so I said, 'I better catch this.' Just plucked it. When you get to thinking too much, that's when all the problems and negative things come in. So just not to think, just play."
Standing in front of his locker, hands in his pockets after the game of his life, Adams had yet to think about the big picture when he met with reporters inside the winning locker room. At some point this week, maybe reality will hit him.
Five weeks after failing to seal his team's win against New England, his third-down catch clinched a victory that sent Green Bay to Seattle for the NFC championship game. Does it signify Adams is fully out of his slump? Is the cycle complete? The rookie wouldn't budge.
No, Adams said, Sunday was not his "I belong" moment Rodgers so often talks about. There was the fake spike in Miami earlier this season, the first time Adams stepped up and made a clutch play. There was the first three quarters against New England. But for a young player still developing, Sunday sure was special.
"If you're the type of guy that's in it for the long haul," Adams said, "you can't expect it to be roses throughout your entire career. It's my first year, and I'm getting a lot of time out there. For a rookie in the Green Bay Packers' organization, I'm getting a lot of balls, too. I'm doing what I can to make the most of it.
"Means a lot, because it put that trust back into everybody else (after not) having played as well the past few weeks. So to come out here and have a big game, it means a lot to get everything rolling going into Seattle."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood.