Packers Insider: Thumbs up to trio of rookie wide receivers
This is why you play Aaron Rodgers in a game that had no meaning as far as the postseason was concerned. That didn't make the game meaningless, as Rodgers and all the other players who battled through a back-and-forth four quarters and overtime demonstrated. Every regular-season game should mean something to professional players, as they do to a large segment of the fan base that tuned in despite the Packers going in with a 5-8-1 record. Green Bay averted what would have been its first 0-8 season on the road and now has a chance to finish this disappointing campaign on an upswing.
Down 35-20 entering the fourth quarter, the Packers went on an 18-0 run that began innocuously enough with a Mason Crosby field goal on their first possession. After forcing a three-and-out, the Packers marched 94 yards in eight plays capped by a Rodgers TD run to pull within 35-30. After forcing another Jets punt, Green Bay took over on its 17 with 3:12 left in regulation and put together another long march culminating in a Rodgers' TD on a fourth-and-1 sneak. Rodgers ran for what proved to be a vital 2-point conversion, enabling the Packers to go up by three and withstand the late Jets field goal that forced overtime.
Rodgers and running back Jamaal Williams clearly were the stars of the game for Green Bay, but here's a tip of the cap to a trio of rookie receivers. Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have been erratic all season but each caught five passes and made key contributions during the comeback. Valdes-Scantling made a 42-yard catch on the Packers' first scoring drive of the fourth quarter and drew a 33-yard pass interference call on Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson on the game-winning drive. St. Brown led the Packers with 94 receiving yards, 24 of them on the first play of Green Bay's first TD drive of the final quarter when he also withstood a brutal hit that tacked on 15 more yards for roughing. Jake Kumerow had three receptions that included his first career touchdown (a 49-yard play that got Green Bay on the board) and a key 13-yard grab during the go-ahead TD drive in the fourth quarter.
The special teams miscues were too numerous to get into here (see below), but the game seemed lost when J'Mon Moore chose to bring the kickoff out of the end zone after the Jets had just scored a touchdown to extend their lead to 28-20. Moore fumbled after taking a jarring hit and, when the Jets recovered and quickly scored again to go ahead 35-20, few could have foreseen this day ending well for Green Bay.
» Special teams breakdowns: When a team has a losing record it usually means the same issues never get corrected and that has been the case with the Packers’ special teams unit. Tony Brown lined up offside on a point-after attempt, Kumerow held to negate a strong return by Moore and then the Jets' Andre Roberts had an unobstructed 99-yard kick return for a touchdown — all in the first half. The Packers’ third phase has been inconsistent at best this year, poor at worst. It continued Sunday. Moore fumbled early in the second half by carrying the ball too loosely in his left arm, giving the ball up at his own 18. Two plays later, the Jets scored to go up 35-20. Then, with about four minutes left and the Packers needing a stop to get Rodgers the ball back with a chance to win the game, the Jets converted on a fake punt with a direct snap for four yards. Finally, with a minute left and after taking a 38-35 lead, the Packers allowed a 51-yard kick return to Roberts to set up the Jets’ final scoring drive that sent the game to overtime.
» Offense puts it together: Nothing like saving the best for (nearly) last. The Packers put together their best offensive effort of the year in scoring a season-high 44 points. Running back Jamaal Williams averaged 6.3 yards per rush and scored a touchdown. Rodgers was nimble and scrambled for key first downs while throwing for 442 yards. Davante Adams caught 11 passes. Nine different Packers caught a ball. They were effective on third down. They produced 30 or more points for just the fourth time all season. And Mason Crosby was perfect on his kicks.
» Jamaal Williams gets his chance: Considered the “other” second-year running back this year after Aaron Jones established himself as one of the more dynamic playmakers in the league, Williams was more than ready to prove he has some explosion as well. He showed a snippet of it on a 20-yard touchdown run against Chicago and then on Sunday in New Jersey he flashed speed-to-power with strong runs of 19, 13 and 15 yards and a 7-yard touchdown run. He once again showed soft hands and strong pass-blocking skills. Drafted a round ahead of Jones in 2017, Williams touched the ball 21 times for 156 yards (7.4 yards per touch) and put together a second straight productive week as the Packers’ lead back.
» Kumerow’s feel-good moment: The 26-year-old University of Wisconsin-Whitewater alumnus was a training camp sensation who spent the first half of the season on injured reserve, and he has been worked into the Packers' offense the last three weeks. He earned the start Sunday and with 5:14 to go in the first half, he ran a clean route and took advantage of a busted Jets coverage for his first career touchdown, a 49-yard pass from Rodgers. Kumerow entered the NFL in 2015 and had bounced around the Cincinnati, New England and Green Bay practice squads before making the 53-man roster this season.
» Packers starters sidelined: The talk all week was about whether to play Rodgers on Sunday out of fear of injury, but two other starters were knocked from the game with injuries. Left guard Lane Taylor injured a knee early in the game and did not return. Corner Jaire Alexander was tasked with trailing the Jets’ No. 1 wide receiver Robby Anderson to start the game and something didn’t look quite right, as Anderson got the best of the Packers’ rookie early. And then two plays into the second quarter — after Anderson caught another pass on him — Alexander took himself out of the game. It was revealed he suffered a groin injury and was done for the day. Alexander missed two games earlier in the year with a groin injury. Late in the game, receiver Equanimeous St. Brown was hit in the head by Jets safety Darryl Roberts, sending him to the locker room. Reserve defensive lineman Fadol Brown (toe) was also lost for the game.