GREEN BAY – Randall Cobb rolled over near the Green Bay Packers' sideline, pain shooting through his neck and upper back. Outside linebacker Jayrone Elliot hovered over him. Receiver Davante Adams, guard T.J. Lang and center JC Tretter hustled over.
Cobb had just secured the Packers’ 23-16 win against the New York Giants with a nine-yard catch on third-and-6 before the two-minute warning, putting him over 100 yards and allowing the Packers to kneel out the clock. But this wasn’t a celebration.
Smartly, Cobb stayed inbounds to run clock. He paid a price. Giants safety Landon Collins came screaming over to the sideline, scrunching Cobb. His hard hit bent Cobb’s neck and vertebrae toward his waist.
“Got folded up like a lawn chair,” Cobb described it.
Teammates were concerned. The Packers’ medical staff wasn’t far behind.
“I laid there for a second,” Cobb said. “Then I turned over and, like, I had 15 faces in front of me. So I thought I had died or something. They kind of scared me more than anything. Yeah, I took a shot, and it hurt, but whenever I saw everybody standing around me, I thought I had died. And then I felt, I saw I could move my fingers and my feet. So I knew it was all right.”
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It was a painful, even scary end to the best game Cobb has had in more than a year.
The NFL’s highest-paid slot receiver – an average of $10 million annually, remember – finished with a season-high nine catches for 108 yards. It was the first time he reached 100 yards in a game since Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks last season, and his most catches since that game.
None were more important than his final grab. The Giants had just sliced the Packers’ lead to a touchdown with less than three minutes left, thanks to a tiptoeing catch from Odell Beckham Jr. in the back of the end zone. As solid as the Packers' defense played all night, the offense wanted to make sure it didn’t give the Giants another possession.
Cobb ended the game with an out route to the right sideline.
“I was able to beat the corner,” Cobb said, “make the catch, and I saw the sticks. So I was kind of just trying to fall forward, make sure I got the first down. Then I just felt the hit, and it hurt.”
Cobb chuckled through pain as he stood at his locker after the game. His neck was sore. He cleared a concussion test before speaking with media, but more tests are coming Monday morning. Immediately after the game, Cobb didn’t know whether he avoided injury.
But he was smiling. His mood was lighter than it’s been in some time.
Through the first three games, Cobb had no touchdowns. He averaged 44 yards per game. Caught just 12 passes. This after 79 catches and 829 yards – a 10.5-yard-per-catch average – were disappointing in 2015.
Cobb didn’t have a touchdown Sunday night, though he had a 21-yard score nullified because of an illegal-shift penalty. He was hit hard after that noncatch too, taking a shoulder from Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Regardless, Cobb was a different player. Finally, something clicked.
He was electric with the football in his hands, chewing up yards after the catch. Two seasons ago, in the final year of his rookie contract, few NFL receivers were more dangerous running in the open field.
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That’s the Randall Cobb that showed up Sunday night against the Giants.
“He’s an extremely tough, tough individual,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s an incredible teammate, and I’m really proud to call him a friend. He played his butt off today. I mean, he was excellent. Took some shots, took a shot on the should-have-been touchdown, and took a shot there at the end.”
During the week, Rodgers said, he was unsure how much the game plan would tilt toward Cobb. Turned out, his slot receiver became a big part. Cobb’s 11 targets were second most on the Packers offense, two behind top receiver Jordy Nelson.
It was the first time he had double-digit targets in a game this season. He had 10 targets combined in the past two games.
“Having a few more opportunities,” Cobb said, “you have to make the most of the opportunities you get. You never know how many you’re going to have.”
The biggest difference Sunday night was what Cobb did with his chances. He averaged 12 yards per catch. Dating back to last season, it was the first time in his past five multi-catch games Cobb averaged at least 10 yards per reception.
Cobb said he broke more tackles Sunday. It’s something he focused on during the offseason, bulking up with five extra pounds of muscle. Through the first three weeks, Cobb hadn’t broken tackles at the rate he did in 2014.
As important as Cobb’s final catch became, none illustrated his night better than a third-and-9 on the Packers’ penultimate drive.
Cobb caught the football on an out route to the left sideline, three yards past the line of scrimmage. He stopped on a dime, pivoted back to the inside and was met by two unblocked Giants. Over the past year, he would have little chance of reaching the first-down marker. He was six yards away, without a clear path.
This time, Cobb transformed into a human pinball. He scampered out of Giants cornerback Leon Hall’s tackle. He pinged off not one, but two Giants linebackers with a spin move. Still running toward the middle of the field, Cobb finally found blockers.
“I saw a little crease,” Cobb said. “So I just tried to get through it.”
Cobb stretched what would’ve been a short gain into 17 yards, an early first down in a Packers drive that took more than 6 minutes and ended with a Mason Crosby field goal.
It was the kind of highlight that hasn’t been seen from Cobb through most of the past year. If he builds off it, there’s no question his emergence could boost the Packers’ inconsistent passing attack. Coach Mike McCarthy often talks about the importance of first downs for the offense’s momentum. Move the chains a couple times, and the offense starts rolling downhill.
Breaking tackles, Cobb regained his spark. He picked up six first downs. Five came on third down.
His last was the most important – and the most painful.
“I’m hurting,” Cobb said. “Yeah, that’s football. You take shots, feel pain.”
BOX SCORE: Packers 23, Giants 16
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