At 37, 'Big Dog' still making big plays in Packers' offense

Marcedes Lewis’ 20-yard catch was a shot in the arm for Green Bay’s offense in Cincinnati

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TE Marcedes Lewis

GREEN BAY – The weapons were loaded for the Packers, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers moved under center with 4 minutes, 10 seconds left in overtime of Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Davante Adams was lined up wide left and Cincinnati reacted accordingly, with its Cover-2 defense shading a safety to the All-Pro receiver's side of the field after Adams had torched the Bengals for a career-high 206 yards and a touchdown to that point.

Do-it-all receiver Allen Lazard motioned right pre-snap, as Rodgers took the snap and faked the handoff to Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones, who carried out the play-action.

With the Bengals' attention centered on Green Bay's top two offensive playmakers, 16th-year veteran Marcedes Lewis quietly chipped Cincinnati defensive end Sam Hubbard, stepped laterally and turned to his trusted quarterback.

For all the amazing throws Rodgers made on Sunday, it was a simple underneath screen pass to the NFL's oldest active skill-position player that generated one of the biggest plays during Green Bay's 25-22 overtime triumph over the Bengals.

Lewis not only made Cincinnati linebacker Logan Wilson miss in the open field but also barreled his shoulder into Bengals safety Vonn Bell before gaining 20 yards and going out of bounds at the Cincinnati 41.

The Packers' sideline quickly came unglued at the sight of Lewis gesturing for the first down, with teammates and coaches celebrating the 37-year-old tight end's longest catch of the year.

"The juice that he brought with that catch, you saw the sideline erupt," tight ends coach Justin Outten said. "Anytime he gets the ball in his hands, you threw the dog a bone. You allow him to do his dirty work in the trenches and be consistent with it. But seeing him in open space like that, it's fun to watch, especially (when) he turned it into a physical run. That's his style of play, which is cool to see."

In Year 16, Marcedes Lewis is known more for his blocking prowess than his yards after catch. In 52 regular-season appearances with Green Bay, the 6-foot-6, 267-pound tight end has a modest 32 catches for 362 yards and four touchdowns.

But as Lewis proved Sunday, the former Pro Bowler still can turn back the hands of time, and has actually made several plays that have brought his teammates and coaches to their feet.

Two years ago, in Philadelphia, Lewis hurdled Eagles safety Nathan Gerry on a 10-yard completion. He followed that up with a 36-yard catch-and-run against Philadelphia last year, which was his longest reception since Week 9 in 2017. 

Lewis has had his moments in the end zone, as well. His 1-yard touchdown catch against the New York Giants in December 2019 was one of the highlights of the season, complete with Rodgers bellowing "Big Dog" during his snap cadence.

Lewis also flashed the athleticism that made him a first-round pick 15 years ago in a game against New Orleans last October, when he elevated to catch an 18-yard TD from Rodgers on third-and-2.

"'Cedes probably has the best film on the team since he's been here, as far as like grading out," receiver Davante Adams said. "He'll do some stuff every now and then that'll … make you forget how old he is. He looked like he was 210 on his screen last week.

"He's still got that in his bag. He may not be able to do it 10 times throughout the game, but he's got two of them or three of them for a game. He's kind of the epitome of, 'Don't count your reps, make your reps count.'"

Lewis' 20-yard catch in Cincinnati was bigger than just the first down it produced. It was a shot the arm for the Packers' offense after the Bengals clawed their way back into the game.

Three plays after Lewis' emphatic first down, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb across the middle on a 15-yard pass that set up Mason Crosby's game-winning field goal from 49 yards.

"You can see how excited the guys get when he touches the football," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Every time we go to 'Cedes in the pass game, even though we don't do it a ton, he seems to deliver. That was a pretty big moment in the game, taking that screen pass 20 yards or whatever it was and his ability to be elusive. I always call him, 'Sweet feet' when he gets going like that."

When asked recently about Lewis' offensive contributions, Rodgers praised his veteran tight end for owning and embracing the "distinct role" he has in Green Bay's offense.

Outten feels likewise, which makes plays like the one Lewis made on Sunday that much more rewarding. In fact, Outten puts that catch, and the response it generated on the Packers' sideline, near the top of Lewis' top moments in Green Bay.

This Sunday, when the Packers square off with the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, chances are Lewis will get back to doing the dirty work, blocking and leading by example.

But whenever the next time comes for Lewis to get involved in the passing game, there's an entire stable of Packers teammates and coaches just waiting to pop for the Big Dog's next big play.

"Anything he does is celebrated in a positive light," Outten said. "We're proud to have him. We love having him and we're blessed to have him. Until he's 45 years old and he wants to shut it down, we're going to keep working and trying to get him back."

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