GREEN BAY – All eyes were on Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb the last time the Packers and Patriots met on a chilly night at Lambeau Field on Nov. 30, 2014.
And rightfully so.
Already over 1,000 yards on the season, Nelson was one of the NFL’s hottest receivers entering the Week 13 encounter against New England, racking up 18 catches for 329 yards (18.2 yards per catch) and three touchdowns in the three games coming out of the Packers’ Week 9 bye.
Cobb, who also was closing in on his first 1,000-yard season, had been equally as dangerous in the middle of the field with four games of at least 100 yards at that point.
Stopping that one-two punch was the Patriots’ primary focus. While Nelson was held to a season-low 53 yards that evening, there was an under-the-radar rookie lower on the Packers’ depth chart patiently waiting for his chance to shine.
Six catches and 121 yards later, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were officially introduced to Davante Adams.
“We certainly got a good look at him,” recalled Belichick on his conference call with Green Bay media Tuesday. “He killed us.”
Adams, a rookie second-round pick at the time, was only six starts into his career prior to playing the Patriots. Adams had been an effective No. 3 option for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but his biggest game until that moment had been a six-catch, 77-yard showing at Miami in Week 6.
Lined up mostly in single coverage, Adams used the extra attention the Patriots directed towards Nelson and Cobb to put together his first career 100-yard game.
A bulk of Adams’ production came in the first quarter when Rodgers twice hit his rookie receiver on lengthy completions down the sideline, with Adams’ 45-yarder against Logan Ryan setting up a 32-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers one play later to put Green Bay ahead 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.
“I think I had some solid games before that, but nothing where it really popped out as an ‘I arrived’ type game,” Adams said. “I’d made some plays and things like that, but my rookie year I definitely felt like that was the one. First time playing Tom and his team, and just knowing what the Patriots kind of stand for, that was definitely the one where I felt like I started getting into a groove a little bit.”
On the heels of his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2017, Adams is off to one of the best starts for a receiver in Packers history and figures to be one of the primary targets of the Patriots’ defensive game plan entering his second meeting with New England on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
Adams notched his third consecutive game with at least 130 receiving yards last Sunday in Los Angeles, and he’s currently tied for fourth in the NFL in both receiving yards (98.6 yards per game) and touchdown receptions (six).
His production has been critical for a fifth-ranked passing offense that missed fellow starters Cobb and Geronimo Allison for five combined games due to injury.
“Davante’s playing at a high level. I don’t think anybody wants to guard him,” said Cobb, who made his return against the Rams on Sunday. “I think you can see the fear in other people’s eyes. When I was out those few weeks, I was really watching the body language of some of the defenders guarding him. He really had a lot of them scared.”
Adams’ success comes as no surprise to Belichick, who believes “all the stars are in alignment” for the 25-year-old receiver to be one of the game’s best for years to come.
Quick and elusive off the line of scrimmage, Adams’ footwork and ability to stress the secondary deep have made him a problem for opposing defenses. Twice against the Rams, Adams had momentum-turning catches of more than 40 yards in key third-down situations.
He’s also become an outspoken leader in a young receivers’ room consisting of three rookies, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J'Mon Moore, who all were called upon to step up during the recent absence of Cobb and Allison.
This year, he’s made it a point to broaden his leadership, recently speaking to surging rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander to “let him know how much of a player he is.” Adams did it to elevate Alexander’s confidence, mimicking a similar speech Rodgers once gave him as a rookie.
“I think he’s really, really come into his own. You could see that last year,” said Head Coach Mike McCarthy of Adams. “He’s a force to be reckoned with. New England will definitely have a plan for him. I think the young guys have really taken to him and I think Davante’s leadership continues to grow, not just in the wide receiver room but throughout the football team.”
Adams is on pace for 118 catches, 1,577 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns through Green Bay’s first seven games. With those types of numbers, Adams knows he’ll likely get extra attention from the Patriots and top cornerback Stephon Gilmore Sunday.
Adams openly embraces that challenge. Four years ago, he enjoyed a career day early on against single coverage. Now, he wants to match that production regardless of what New England throws his way.
“It’s kind of cool how it goes full circle,” Adams said. “You go from having production because you were the No. 3 and nobody is kind of paying attention to you, so I can squeeze through the cracks, to now I’m sure they’ll be game-planning for some of the things I’ve done.
“So it’ll be interesting to see if I can go out there and still have a game like I did because that’s obviously what I intend on doing.”