Packers' Davante Adams finishes the job for Aaron Rodgers' 400th TD
GREEN BAY - Before the snap, Matt LaFleur knew the milestone play had no shot. It was first-and-goal from the 9. LaFleur called for a jet sweep. The Green Bay Packers didn’t need a touchdown here. Just get a little closer, and they’d be knocking on the goal line.
Then LaFleur noticed the fatal flaw in his design. When the Philadelphia Eagles' defense lined up, defensive end Brandon Graham put his hand in Lambeau Field’s grass a few feet wide of right tackle Rick Wagner. Playing a nine-technique, Graham’s positioning meant a jet sweep was about the worst play LaFleur could have called.
“I almost called timeout,” LaFleur said. “Thank goodness I didn’t.”
At center Elgton Jenkins’ shotgun snap, receiver Allen Lazard was already in motion. Lazard, who lined up wide left, flashed both hands as he approached quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He leaned toward Rodgers as he ran past, expecting the football, confused why the two-time MVP wasn’t giving it to him. But Lazard just kept going, running off script.
Anyone who has shared a field with Rodgers knows the future Hall of Fame quarterback always has a plan, especially off script.
LaFleur wasn’t the only one who noticed where Graham lined up. Before the snap, Rodgers knew the jet sweep had no chance, too. As LaFleur contemplated a timeout, Rodgers watched Eagles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman follow Lazard’s motion. Davante Adams was left alone with Eagles cornerback Darius Slay.
With the All-Pro season Adams is putting together, there isn’t a cornerback in the game Rodgers will hesitate to target one-on-one against his top receiver. As Lazard kept running, Rodgers flipped a short pass to Adams at the 9-yard line. He couldn’t have known history had left his hand. Slay, in perfect position to make the tackle, wrapped both arms around Adams at the 5-yard line.
But there’s a reason no receiver in the league sniffs the end zone as ardently as Adams.
“I’ve just got a rule with myself,” Adams said, “that I’m in big trouble with Davante if I’m outside the 5, and into the 5-yard line, and I don’t get in the end zone. So it was, really, I just blacked out.”
Adams threw his right arm up against Slay. His hand punctured the cornerback’s facemask, yanking Slay along with him on his way to history.
Rodgers’ 400th career touchdown pass Sunday, his third in a 30-16 win against the Eagles, was nothing special at first glance. Just simple pitch and catch. “He did all the work,” Rodgers said of Adams afterward. In this game, there’s usually more happening below the surface. Number 400 was no different, the simplicity cloaking Rodgers’ brilliance.
The great ones diagnose a play on the field in split seconds. In the time it took Jenkins to snap the football, Rodgers pulled the Packers out of a disastrous play and, with one scan of the field, found the hole he could exploit for a touchdown.
As Lazard motioned, Jenkins snapped, and LaFleur considered calling timeout, Rodgers caught Slay backpedaling 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. He whizzed a pass over pass rusher Derek Barnett’s head before any Eagles defender could react.
“I felt,” Rodgers said, “like I could maybe squeeze it past Barnett’s arms there quickly, and Tae would have the whole field to run it in. And that’s what happened. That’s what he did.”
Rodgers became the seventh quarterback in NFL history to reach 400 career touchdown passes. He arrived at the milestone quicker than any quarterback ever has, needing just 193 games. Rodgers eclipsed New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who needed 205 games to reach 400.
His three touchdown passes Sunday gave him 36 in 2020. It’s Rodgers’ fifth season with at least 35 touchdown passes, another NFL record.
The touchdown was Adams’ second of the day. He now has a touchdown catch in seven straight games, tying Don Hutson’s franchise record. It gave the Packers a 20-3 lead entering the fourth quarter, a margin they needed after the Eagles scored a pair of touchdowns to briefly trim the Packers' lead to 23-16.
A loss would have put a significant damper on Sunday. Rodgers threw his 300th career touchdown on a short, flip pass to Ty Montgomery in a 34-23 loss at Atlanta in the second game of the 2017 season. Rodgers was so disgusted with that defeat, which came months after the Packers lost the NFC Championship game to the Falcons, he didn’t keep the ball.
“I’m not quite sure where that one went,” Rodgers said. “I don’t remember if it got painted up. I felt like because of the score of the game — I feel like we were kind of getting blown out — it maybe wasn’t as special.
“I am proud, obviously, of my 400th. I’m glad I got the ball. I’m going to hold onto that one.”
Rodgers’ 100th career touchdown pass to James Jones came in a win at Atlanta in 2011, his first MVP season. Jones was so excited, he launched the football into the stands. Rodgers’ 200th career touchdown came against the Minnesota Viking in 2014, Rodgers’ second MVP season. It doubled as Adams’ first NFL touchdown. Rodgers let the rookie keep that football.
On Sunday, Adams made sure to return the favor. Four hours before kickoff, Adams said, he made sure to check which touchdown pass would be history. He committed it to memory — give the third touchdown pass to his quarterback — and made sure every Packers player eligible to catch a pass knew the same. There would be no one chucking it into the stands.
After rolling over the goal line, Adams walked seven steps toward Rodgers. Then he knelt to both knees in the end zone, extending the football like a proposal.
“I was thinking, ‘Get up, man. Get up. What are you doing?’” Rodgers said, smiling.
With Rodgers, it’s the passes he doesn’t throw that might be most remarkable. Rodgers was the first NFL quarterback ever to reach 300 touchdowns without 100 interceptions. Now he’s the first to reach 400 without 100 picks. Rodgers has only 88 career interceptions, shockingly few compared to other NFL greats. Drew Brees has 240. Tom Brady, 190. Peyton Manning had 251. John Elway had 226. Dan Marino had 252.
Brett Favre had 336.
At 37 years old, it’s uncertain how many seasons Rodgers has left. If he continues this pace, he very well might end his career throwing fewer than 100 interceptions.
“Like my man Kevin Garnett said one time,” Rodgers said, flashing a big smile, “anything is possible. I think that would be sweet.”