GREEN BAY – Allen Lazard wears a lot of hats in the Packers' offense, but Sunday was a good reminder what the 6-foot-5, 227-pound receiver can do with the ball in his hands.
Coming off a strong month of December, Lazard started the new year on a high note with six catches for 72 yards during the Packers' dominating 37-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings, with his leaping 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter igniting a run of three straight TD drives for the offense.
According to NFL NextGen Stats, Lazard's 0.6 yards of separation from Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd was the tightest window on any of Rodgers' 35 touchdown passes this year.
It also was the latest in a series of spectacular catches Lazard has made over the past month, beginning with his 32-yard catch over triple coverage to convert on third-and-18 against the Bears. Then, against Cleveland on Christmas Day, Lazard made a spectacular one-handed grab on a 34-yard pickup.
With Minnesota shading coverage the way of All-Pro receiver Davante Adams on Sunday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had no problem going to Lazard in single coverage on the opposite side.
"Him making that one-hander (vs. Cleveland) … that's probably why that ball went up there," said Adams of Lazard's 20-yard TD catch. "Now '12' won't even think twice. He'll look over and see the safety tilted toward me, and it's time to let it fly and let '13' go make that beautiful grab. It's contagious; big plays are contagious."
While praised for his all-around impact on the offense, including as a blocker, Lazard's impact on the passing game tends to get overlooked. As history has shown, a productive Lazard often is a good omen for Green Bay's offense.
With Sunday's win over Minnesota, the Packers improved to 12-0 (including playoffs) when Lazard catches at least four passes. Rodgers has a 106.0 passer rating in those 12 contests, while Green Bay's offense averaged 31.9 points per game.
Over his last four games, Lazard has hauled in 16 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns, nearly matching his output from his first nine games (19 receptions, 222 yards, three TDs).
"I really feel like since maybe the Rams game (on Nov. 28), he's played a number of really good games, made contested catches and big plays down the field," said Rodgers after Sunday's win.
"He does all the dirty work, so to get him the ball is awesome because he's a very unselfish guy. He can go in there, stick his head in there and block and block on the edge as well for some of our run solution stuff, but he's been making plays down the field, which is great."
Lazard faced some adversity in November, catching just three of 10 targets against Seattle and the Los Angeles Rams, but he now enters Sunday's regular-season finale with a chance to set new single-season career highs for both catches and receiving yards.
Rodgers compares Lazard's success with contested catches to a hot streak former receiver James Jones went on early during Rodgers' tenure as starting quarterback. Over the years, Jones became one of his QB's most trusted targets.
"(Lazard) has been making those contested catches and the more you do that, the more opportunities you get," Rodgers said. "It's a la James Jones back in the day. When James was a young player, you started seeing him making these contested catches to give you that confidence to go back to him over and over when you know it's one of those 50-50 balls and he's been coming down with a lot more of those than not."
Lazard's production has been critical for an offense that's been playing without tight end Robert Tonyan (ACL) since October and veteran receiver Randall Cobb (core) for the past month.
The Packers are getting healthier, though. With Cobb's return to practice last week, Green Bay could be close to having its full receiving corps available for the first time since Week 1.
Regardless of who is or isn't playing, Lazard will continue to be ready to fill whatever role awaits him in Head Coach Matt LaFleur's offense.
"I'm just so locked into the game, I don't really think about my role changing in that sense," said Lazard last month. "I prepare for any role to present itself at any given time in the game, whether you're playing Z, F, Y, X. Whatever it may be."