EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Malik Heath admits he got a little too relaxed on what should have been his first NFL touchdown Monday night against the New York Giants.
The Packers rookie receiver thought he'd shaken off Giants safety Jason Pinnock when Jordan Love targeted Heath on second-and-goal from New York 6-yard line, only for Pinnock to knock the ball out of his grasp at the last second.
Green Bay went right back to the undrafted rookie on the next play, dialing up an out to the pylon that Heath pulled in before falling into the side judge. It led to a few anxious moments, but the official stood back up and signaled touchdown.
The Giants ultimately prevailed 24-22 after a game-winning drive of their own, but Heath's redemptive score gave the Packers a shot – pulling ahead by one point with 1 minute, 33 seconds remaining.
"It felt good," Heath said. "I gotta make that play. Short term memory. They called the (next) play for me and I made the play."
Heath and second-year receiver Samori Toure each saw a spike in offensive playing time with Christian Watson sidelined with the hamstring injury he sustained in last Sunday's 27-19 win over Kansas City.
All seven of Heath's catches, totaling 79 yards, have come over Green Bay's last four contests. Against Detroit last month, the 6-foot-2, 213-pound receiver caught four passes for 46 yards on just 11 offensive snaps.
With Green Bay looking to rally for its fourth straight victory, Heath desperately wanted to make a play for Love and the offense. After Pinnock knocked the ball from Heath's grasp, the rookie left no doubt on the very next play on third-and-goal.
"I was just waiting on him to get up and signal it," said Heath of the official. "I knew I hit the pylon because the route, you gotta get inside the goal line before you break it out. I was just waiting on the ref to get up and signal."
Heath said he was on his knee praying his first NFL score would be enough to give Green Bay the victory, but the Giants marched 57 yards on eight plays to set up Randy Bullock's game-winning 37-yard field goal.
Still, receiver Romeo Doubs was proud of how Heath responded to not catching the first pass from Love, a play in which the Packers quarterback climbed the pocket to find Heath.
"I salute him, man," Doubs said. "The very first one, it was in his hands. It was incomplete in a very critical situation. So it was up to not just me but all the other receivers to surround him in that huddle to keep his hopes up because that's what this league is about.
"The best foot forward in that situation is to give him his confidence back so he can continue to go out there and make plays like you saw."
Reed provided a spark for Green Bay early on, scoring a 16-yard touchdown off an end-around in the first quarter to give the Packers an early 7-0 lead. The rookie second-round pick finished with 65 total yards and a TD on 12 touches.
"That's what he does. He makes plays," said Heath of Reed. "He's an explosive player. He's gonna keep going. He cold. We're going to lean on him when we need him in situations we need him, and glad he gave us that spark."
Taking stock: Despite the loss, the Packers still maintain possession of the seventh and final playoff seed in the NFC right now after the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle lost this weekend.
Awaiting them next Sunday at Lambeau Field is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that currently stands atop a crowded NFC South based on tiebreakers with Atlanta and New Orleans, both of whom are also 6-7.
"Everything's still in front of us at the end of the day," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. "Definitely frustrated over the loss but looking at the big picture. You gotta show up. You gotta show up next week. We got a tough opponent in the Buccaneers coming next week and they're fighting for the same thing we're fighting for. It's gonna be a hell of a game and we gotta show up."
Rookie rundown: The Packers' rookie class combined to catch 15 of Love's 25 passes for 117 yards.