When Greg Jennings recorded just one catch for 5 yards in the season opener against the Bears, questions inevitably were raised.
Where was the Jennings that led the NFL in receiving yards in the preseason? Was this young, rising star going to suffer through the inconsistencies so many rookie receivers do, making a big impact one week and disappearing the next?
Well, it looks for now as though that first game was an aberration. Since being shut out by the Bears until catching that one pass on the second-to-last play of the game, Jennings has begun having the consistent impact in the passing game everyone thought he would after his dynamite preseason.
In his last three games, Jennings has 14 catches for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Jennings has topped 65 yards in receiving (a notable benchmark because 65 yards per game is essentially a 1,000-yard pace for a 16-game season) in three straight contests.
To put into perspective just how rare that is for a rookie wide receiver in the NFL, not one receiver drafted in 2005 was able to top 65 yards in three straight games. In fact, only three rookie receivers last year (Cleveland's Braylon Edwards, Baltimore's Mark Clayton and Philadelphia's Reggie Brown) had as many as three games total with more than 65 yards.
Furthermore, each of those three 2005 rookies had three 65-plus-yard games in a span of four contests, but the earliest any of those consistent stretches began was mid-November. Jennings has put one together in the season's first month, illustrating just how far ahead of the curve he is for a receiver his age.
"He's a mature young man, he's poised, he's quietly confident," Packers receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "He just has a very good feel for the game at a young age. Nothing seems to catch him by surprise."
Robinson added that the combination of Jennings' talent and intelligence was evident shortly after the second-round draft pick began practicing with the team in the spring. Brett Favre repeatedly has referred to Jennings as a "natural," which is extremely valuable if not necessary because at 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds, "He's not physically imposing, he's not some speed demon, he just does everything very good," according to the veteran quarterback.
"You throw 10 kids out there and throw them each a basketball for the first time, two of them may know how to dribble right away," Favre said. "Picking up a football and throwing it for the first time, somebody makes it look easy the other guy doesn't know what he's doing. It just comes natural to him."
That born receiver in Jennings was no more evident than on his two touchdown catches this season.
The first came in the first quarter against New Orleans at Lambeau Field, when he executed a perfect double move to beat Mike McKenzie for a 22-yard TD.
What made the play special, according to Robinson, was that the way a double move is run differs depending on whether the defensive back is off the line of scrimmage, or up tight on the receiver.
The latter is the tougher one to execute, because the defensive back will try to knock the receiver off the route on the first move. But with McKenzie in bump-and-run, Jennings didn't give away the route too soon and carried it through to break open.
"He was real patient at the line of scrimmage with his move," Robinson said. "That one kind of stands out. He showed a lot of poise on that one."
He showed tremendous instincts and balance on his other touchdown at Detroit, when he took a short hitch pass from Favre, turned toward the sideline, read the block of Donald Driver and fought off an attempt to shove him out of bounds for a 75-yard score.
Jennings, always humble as well as sincere and articulate, spreads the credit around for his early professional success.
"I was talking to Driver today, and I don't think ever told him how grateful I am for him being on the other side at the receiver position, and with Brett, they make it so much easier because of the experience they have," Jennings said. "It brings my game up another notch. When you're around guys who really know how to play the game and have football awareness, they make you look that much better."
Having played more than 100 games together, Favre and Driver often talk about the chemistry they have as passer and catcher. Jennings wants to develop that same connection with Favre, where they read and react to what they see on a given play in the same fashion.
That's an ongoing process, but one that's not as far from major progress as it might appear.
Take for example the end of the New Orleans game, when the Packers were trying to drive for the tying touchdown. Favre rifled a third-down pass in Jennings' direction that looked way off the mark as Jennings, who never saw the throw, made his break toward the middle of the field.
What happened is Favre saw a gap in the Saints' coverage and was hoping Jennings would cut the route short, or as players say "sit it down." Jennings didn't do that, but it wasn't because he didn't read the defense the same way. He did, but playing in just his second NFL game, he was more focused on running the route that was called.
"He wanted me to sit it down, but he was like, 'I never told you that, so how would you know?'" Jennings recalled. "But now it's like he doesn't have to tell me that because I know, I know that's what he's looking for, and if I see a gap, I'll turn and at least peek, and if he doesn't hit me then I'll just continue on my route.
"It's developing that rapport and that comfort level, and it's definitely coming along."
How long it will take for the chemistry to become evident, and unspoken, is difficult to predict. But judging by the way Jennings has entered the league, it's likely to happen sooner than for the average receiver.
"It continues to grow, and hopefully it continues to grow and get better and better," Jennings said. "You're never going to be perfect, but you want to be as close to perfect as possible, and I think that's what they have, Driver and Brett. They're not perfect, but you come as close as you can come to being perfect.
"That's eventually what I want to have before the season is over with, but we're working to get there. We're getting close."