GREEN BAY – Davante Adams and Aaron Jones turned in back-to-back career-best performances to power the Packers to victory in the first two games of the 2020 season.
So naturally Sunday night was Allen Lazard's turn to set a few personal milestones.
With Adams out with a hamstring injury and New Orleans locked in on stopping Jones, Lazard became the go-to target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers inside a mostly empty Superdome.
As has often been the case for the past year, the 6-foot-5, 227-pound receiver was up to the challenge in catching six passes for a career-high 146 yards and a touchdown in a 37-30 win over the Saints.
Lazard was rewarded for his performance with a game ball, his first since playing in the Liberty Bowl at the end of his senior year in 2017 at Iowa State. He even brought it with him to his post-game Zoom call with reporters.
"I mean, this is everything I've been preparing for," Lazard said. "This is football. … Injuries are bound to happen, so it was only going to be, not necessarily a matter of time, but I'm really just waiting for my opportunity to be able to step up today and I think I did that pretty well."
Without Adams, the Saints wanted to make sure Marquez Valdes-Scantling wouldn't beat them deep and deployed their safeties according. That left Lazard with quite a few one-on-one matchups.
Twice on Sunday Lazard reset his career long for a reception, first with a 48-yarder in the second quarter that set up his own 5-yard touchdown, which gave Green Bay its first lead, 13-7, with 10 minutes, 36 seconds left in the first half.
He then reset it again at the start of the second half. With the offense facing a third-and-10, Lazard lined up in the slot and came across on a deep post, gaining a step on cornerback P.J. Williams as he broke across the middle.
Rodgers put the ball on the money and Lazard hauled it in for a 72-yard catch down to the New Orleans' 3-yard line. Having seen how Jones' 75-yard touchdown after halftime helped lift Green Bay to last week's 42-21 win over Detroit, Lazard wanted to make a similar impact coming out of halftime against the Saints.
In a tongue-and-cheek manner, Lazard was even gracious enough to allow Jones to score the touchdown following his catch, a 1-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal that put the Packers back ahead 20-17.
"I told Aaron Jones during halftime, I was like, 'Look. I'm going to need another 75-yard touchdown … to start the second half again,'" Lazard said. "So really I kind of slowed down just so he could score and, you know, get that fulfillment and get the ball rolling with him."
While Lazard only had one more catch after his 72-yarder, he was involved in perhaps the biggest play of the evening in the fourth quarter when Rodgers drew Saints linebacker Demario Davis offside on third-and-3 for a free play.
With nothing to lose, Rodgers fired a pass to Lazard in the back of the end zone and drew a defensive pass interference call on cornerback Janoris Jenkins, putting the ball at the Saints' 1.
Green Bay proceeded to run four plays from the 1, draining nearly two minutes off the clock, before Rodgers finally found tight end Robert Tonyan for the 1-yard touchdown to give the Packers their first two-score lead of the evening, 37-27.
Lazard's rise from a late-season signing off Jacksonville's practice squad in 2018 to the No. 2 receiver on the Packers' depth chart has been one of the team's biggest storylines over the past 12 months.
"Allen's been just such a consistent performer for us," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "He's earned everything that he's gotten. I think he has got the respect of all his teammates. I can speak for the coaches, he's got all our respect, and he has become a really, really consistent high-level player for our offense."
The Green Bay Packers faced the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020.
After catching 35 passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns in the final 11 regular-season games of 2019, Lazard now leads the Packers' offense with 13 receptions for 254 yards (19.5 yards per catch) through the first three games.
The fact Lazard had such a productive day without Adams on the field speaks volumes, especially given the modest expectations NFL scouts had for him when Lazard entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent a little more than two years ago.
As the big plays continue to pile up, however, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore No. 13.
"I think we have the best deep ball thrower in the league, if not NFL history," Lazard said. "To be able to go out there and connect on those plays I think is huge. … Not only builds confidence for us, it takes away their confidence, their energy if they were to have any.
"To be able to connect on those deep passes, even for me I think I'm going to be able to get more respect in my vertical game considering that I'm slow."