GREEN BAY – Allen Lazard came into Monday night with one catch for seven yards to his name.
Yet in the fourth quarter with the game on the line against the Lions, the young receiver from Iowa State was coming back to the huddle telling Aaron Rodgers what routes he wanted to run.
The two-time MVP quarterback's reaction? He loved it.
"For a young guy to do that, how can you not have confidence in that?" Rodgers said after Lazard keyed a fourth-quarter comeback for a last-second 23-22 victory over the Lions on Monday night at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers' belief in Lazard wasn't just built on his tone of voice, though. He'd seen Lazard make plenty of plays in practice, and certainly this past preseason, when the former undrafted prospect made a legitimate bid for a roster spot.
The stronger impression, though, came from how Lazard handled getting cut and re-signed to the practice squad when he felt he deserved a spot on the 53.
"As disappointed as he was he didn't hold any bitterness and let it affect his preparation and the way he practiced," Rodgers said. "Sure enough he was back up (on the active roster) quickly."
The day before the opener against Chicago, to be exact, with undrafted rookie Darrius Shepherd out with a hamstring injury. Coincidentally, it was Shepherd's miscues on Monday night – a muffed punt and deflected pass that was picked at the goal line by Detroit – that got Lazard into the game.
Credit Rodgers with an assist, too, as he asked receivers coach Alvis Whitted to insert Lazard with the Packers trailing in the fourth quarter. Rodgers probably knows him better than most receivers with minimal NFL action under their belts because he sits next to him in the team meetings, noting "we've struck up a pretty good friendship."
So all of that was in the mix when Rodgers fired downfield to Lazard not once, but twice, connecting with a fairly well-covered Lazard on the second of consecutive throws for a 35-yard touchdown that cut the Packers' deficit from nine points to two.
"He's a guy that's improved since the day we've gotten here," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said of Lazard. "I know Aaron really trusts his ability to be in the right place at the right time."
It carried over to the final drive, with Lazard catching three more passes for 30 yards, two of them moving the chains. That's when Lazard was coming back to the huddle and bending Rodgers' ear. Rodgers said at one point, LaFleur was between two play calls, and Rodgers told him to go with the one that included a preferred route by Lazard. It produced one of those first downs.
Lambeau Field hosted a Monday Night Football matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions on Oct. 14, 2019.
If it weren't for the fact that Rodgers doesn't embellish plays, players or situations for the cameras, how this all went down would be difficult to believe. It's worth pointing out that Lazard's only career catch coming into Monday wasn't even from Rodgers, as it came in Week 17 last year when the veteran QB exited early with a concussion.
In some respects, Rodgers had no choice but to trust Lazard. With Davante Adams out, Geronimo Allison leaving early in the third quarter after taking a shot to the head, and Shepherd struggling, Rodgers was down to Marquez Valdes-Scantling (who left with a leg injury but returned), Jake Kumerow and Lazard at receiver.
He likened it to a 2016 road game in Atlanta, when injuries thrust Allison, Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis into prominent roles, and all three produced their first NFL touchdown receptions. Those into eerie coincidences will remember that was a one-point game as well with a similar score, 33-32, only the Packers lost.
"It's about spreading it around," Rodgers said of games like this, which he did once again, completing passes to nine different players for the second straight week. In the two straight victories without Adams, a total of 12 different players have now caught a pass from Rodgers.
"I think the most important thing that we've done on offense, and it starts with the staff, is really zeroing in on roles, specific roles for players," Rodgers said. "Because I think it allows guys to really buy into their part in the offense."
Or declare their role on the fly, as Lazard did. Either way works.
"A guy basically his second time playing (is) telling me what routes he wants," Rodgers said. "I felt pretty good about where he was at confidence-wise."