Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling makes most of second, third chances after early drop
GREEN BAY - At the two-minute warning before halftime, Aaron Rodgers looked at his embattled wide receiver and asked a question.
For six games, Marquez Valdes-Scantling had been shut out. No touchdowns. No game-changing plays. Plenty of drops. These droughts have been too common. Valdes-Scantling will flash his talent, that 6-4 height, that 4.3 speed, and it’s all so tantalizing. A receiver built like this should be making big plays every week.
Valdes-Scantling, now midway through his third season, mixes the good with the bad, and that was true Thursday night in a 34-17 win at the San Francisco 49ers.
On the first play of the second quarter, Valdes-Scantling ran free across the middle. No defenders near him, 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw late switching off Tyler Ervin in zone coverage, quarterback Aaron Rodgers tossed a layup of a pass.
The pass clanked off Valdes-Scantling’s hands, ending the drive.
For some time now, there has been concern how Valdes-Scantling handles the drops. He fell into a swoon in the second half last season, the drops snowballing. His confidence was shot. His coaches sensed it. His quarterback knew it. So when coach Matt LaFleur decided on his call out of the two-minute warning, a play designed for Valdes-Scantling to just run straight down the right seam, Rodgers had to ask.
“You want the play?”
Valdes-Scantling didn’t hesitate.
He always wants the football.
“Went back into the huddle,” Rodgers said, “figured I was throwing him a touchdown, and sure enough I did.”
It was one of only two catches for Valdes-Scantling against the 49ers. Both were touchdowns, this one a 52 yarder that broke open a 21-3 halftime lead. It was another layup. Busted coverage in the 49ers secondary. A million prayers among Packers fans — and, presumably, their beloved quarterback — that Valdes-Scantling would catch it.
That he did might have been a relief, but Rodgers said it wasn’t a surprise. For better or worse, and possibly out of necessity, Rodgers has determined to throw his support behind the young receiver, at least publicly.
“I don’t have any reservations throwing the ball his way,” Rodgers said Thursday night. Valdes-Scantling might not get consistent targets — he had only one four days earlier against the Minnesota Vikings — but Rodgers constantly returns to his receiver after drops.
It happened in the opener at Minnesota. Valdes-Scantling had two bad drops in that game, one when he was open for a third-down conversion like Thursday night, the other for a potential touchdown. Rodgers kept chucking it to him. He finished with four catches, 96 yards and a touchdown.
On Thursday, Rodgers said he didn’t even mention the drop with Valdes-Scantling. On the sideline immediately after, he said, they discussed an earlier play.
“As far as the first touchdown,” Rodgers said, “I didn’t really see him. I saw the area of the field and expected that he was going to beat the safety to that side. I wanted to put a little extra height on it because I knew the safety on the back side was doubling Davante (Adams), and after the front-side guy attached to the Y (receiver), I felt good about MVS being there on the deep ball. That’s a fun one.”
The back-side safety had good reason to double cover Adams. He was the star on this night, finishing with 10 catches for 173 yards including a game-opening 36-yard touchdown. Valdes-Scantling was not available to the media afterward. Adams, who accepted the possibility he might be the NFL’s best receiver when asked after the game, was an easy choice to speak for the position.
But in a week when the Packers were scrutinized for not acquiring a receiver at the NFL’s trade deadline, Thursday night was the latest example of what a complement to Adams can do for this offense. For Valdes-Scantling, consistently filling that role should be the only objective. It’s how the second-highest drafted receiver on this roster is judged. As admirable as Valdes-Scantling’s ability to bounce back from bad drops might be, the bad drops must become less frequent.
“I think he’s absolutely going to get to the point,” Adams said, “and I think he’s headed there now. It’s just about the confidence and knowing based off of what you’ve done before that you can continue to go and do it, and having the mental discipline to really put the pressure on the defense every single time you run a route, or every single play. He’s definitely getting there, and I think you saw with me, it takes a little bit of time to fully get that true confidence.”
For Adams, it took a miserable second NFL season to reach the heights he’s scaled. From a sophomore slump to maybe the NFL’s best receiver. From one touchdown catch in all the 2015 season to six in the past three games, which were played in a 12-day span.
But the Davante Adams stories of the NFL are rare. And the Packers would do just fine if Valdes-Scantling never reached those same heights, or even anywhere close. They just need consistency. On a night when Valdes-Scantling was the playmaker he’s built to be, he offered a reminder why he also isn’t.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in him,” Adams said. “I think you saw today, obviously other than one play, he played a great game.”
To be the receiver the Packers need him to be, Valdes-Scantling eventually will need to play great games without that one play.