Packers get best and worst from Marquez Valdes-Scantling in OT loss to Colts

Ryan Wood
Packers News

INDIANAPOLIS - It all starts with Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s hands. Each catch. Every drop. For any wide receiver, the hands are a money maker. For Valdes-Scantling, the hands are everything. 

Because you know the rest of his game. Valdes-Scantling is so big, so fast, so overpowering at times, it can leave defenses helpless. He has shown that the past few weeks. He showed it again Sunday. Twice, the Indianapolis Colts were defenseless against that size, that speed.  

There he was in the first half of the Packers’ 34-31 overtime loss, outrunning single coverage deep down the right seam, forcing cornerback Rock Ya-Sin to desperately lock onto Valdes-Scantling’s right arm, setting up a touchdown with a 51-yard defensive pass interference. There he was on third-and-10 from the 6-yard line on the final drive of the fourth quarter, Aaron Rodgers heaving up a prayer down the middle of the field, Valdes-Scantling’s hands answering it with a 47-yard grab behind the Colts secondary near midfield. 

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83) catches the ball in between two Indianapolis Colts players in the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium.

On the sideline before that drive, Rodgers told Valdes-Scantling to be ready. There would come a point, he said, when he would have to chuck it and hope. He needed his receiver to be there. That’s where Valdes-Scantling has progressed in the circle of trust with his quarterback. When Rodgers needs to make a play, the MVP turns to him. 

“He’s so damn fast,” Rodgers said. “Even though I got it out early and threw it high, I still underthrew him.”

The Packers never get to overtime Sunday without Valdes-Scantling’s hands. When his hands are right, Valdes-Scantling is the second receiving option the Packers badly crave. He’s catching three passes for 55 yards against the Colts a week after catching four passes for 149 yards, and two weeks after catching two touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers.

MVS has had a catch of at least 40 yards in 13 of his 42 career games. That's 30 percent.

But those hands.

Finally, after three straight weeks of building confidence, it seemed Valdes-Scantling might be finding consistency. Then overtime happened. There he was on second-and-2 from the Packers’ 30-yard line, catching a pass with two blockers in front of him. Maybe Valdes-Scantling’s hands wouldn’t have been a factor, but tight end Robert Tonyan couldn’t sustain his block. Instead, Colts safety Julian Blackmon swung around Tonyan, then changed the game by smacking Valdes-Scantling’s right arm. 

That’s when his hands finally betrayed him. MVS caught the football. He just couldn't hold onto it.

The Packers receiver sprung toward the loose football, but defensive tackle DeForest Buckner beat him to it. The Colts took over at the 30. Game, set, match. 

Even Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who doinked a 50-yard field goal short off the crossbar in the first half, had no problem splitting the uprights from 39 yards to send Colts players sprawling onto the field in celebration, and owner Jim Irsay into hyperbole. 

“Truly,” Irsay said afterward, “one of the most exciting victories we’ve ever had at home here.” 

That might give you some idea of what it means to beat these 2020 Packers. They’re good, a legitimate Super Bowl contender, even after Sunday’s stunning collapse from a 28-14 halftime lead. The Packers have playmakers on offense, from Aaron Rodgers to Aaron Jones to Davante Adams.  

Even still, there’s a sense this team might go as far as Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s hands allow. 

Valdes-Scantling, who was not made available to reporters, tweeted after the game that he had received death threats.

He was hardly the only Packers player sloppy with the football Sunday. The Packers entered with five giveaways through the season’s first nine games, second fewest in the NFL. So they were due for one of these. That doesn’t make their four turnovers Sunday, and the impact they had on this game, any easier to digest. 

“You lose the turnover battle 4-2,” coach Matt LaFleur said, “it’s tough to come out on top.” 

Before Valdes-Scantling’s fumble, the Packers saw a promising opening drive end with a botched snap, which Colts linebacker Darius Leonard recovered. On the final play of the first quarter, Rodgers threw an interception intended for Valdes-Scantling that Ya-Sin undercut for an impressive interception. Early in the fourth quarter, returner Darrius Shepherd fumbled a kickoff to set up a short field for the Colts, who kicked a field goal to go ahead 31-28.

The Colts never trailed again. 

Despite all that sloppiness, the Packers had a chance at the end. Then Valdes-Scantling’s hands got involved. For every two steps forward for the young receiver, there seems to be a big step back.

"A lot of it is fundamentals carrying the ball," Rodgers said, "but I’ve had my fair share of fumbles. It was just bad timing obviously."

The Packers made clear Sunday night they are not giving up on MVS. He's too good, too important to discard for one play. Yes, the youngster remains inconsistent. Until his hands make the simple plays routinely, that won't change.

Few players on their offense make the big plays like he does.

So it's no surprise LaFleur did not flinch when asked a blunt question afterward. Can he continue living with this from Marquez Valdes-Scantling?

“I was so proud of his effort,” LaFleur said. “I know he’s really hurting right now. He made so many plays for us, and not only in the pass game but in the run game, stuff that you guys probably don’t even notice that we’re not getting the yardage that we get if he’s not blocking his ass off. So I can live with MVS. I’ve got more confidence in him now than probably ever. I think he continues to get better each and every day. Every time we go out there, he’s providing big plays. 

“I can live with MVS and we’re going to continue to live with him and just hope that he can continues to get better and better and better, and I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him.”