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Marquez Valdes-Scantling repays Packers for their enduring confidence

Team chemistry made the 2020 Packers a special squad

Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling

GREEN BAY – Prior to the start of Sunday's NFC Championship Game, Aaron Rodgers pulled aside Marquez Valdes-Scantling with a message.

"I told him before the game, 'I was going to need some plays,'" Rodgers recalled. "'I was going to need at least two big ones.' He made many, many, many plays for us."

The Packers' third-year receiver came through for his quarterback and his team when they needed him most, catching four passes for a game-high 115 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

While Green Bay came up on the short end of a 31-26 outcome, Valdes-Scantling provided a badly needed spark for the offense at several critical points of Sunday's game.

His 50-yard touchdown catch down the sideline, which came in single coverage against Carlton Davis, got the Packers on the board after a slow start.

Valdes-Scantling's other three catches also contributed to drives that produced points, whether it was his 12-yard slant on second-and-10 in the second quarter or his 24-yard catch down the middle of the field that got the offense going after a lost fumble on the opening possession of the second half.

"All of us in this locker room think highly of Marquez," tight end Robert Tonyan said. "(He) made the plays when they needed to be (made). (Even) when Marquez isn't getting the ball, he puts it into the run game and is blocking people from the beginning to the end of the whistle.

"MVS is a fighter and there's no surprise that we just keep going back at him."

It was the type of strong finish the Packers believed Valdes-Scantling could have after the 6-foot-4 receiver worked his way through a rough patch in the middle of the season that included a lost fumble in overtime of a Week 11 loss to Indianapolis.

Rodgers, Head Coach Matt LaFleur and the rest of the offense reiterated their confidence in Valdes-Scantling, who caught 10 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns over the final three games of the 2020 season.

"I'm just really proud of him," Rodgers said. "He's had such an interesting year. I think it's been a good year of growth for him as a person. That's what I'm most excited about for him as a friend."

With his 115 yards, Valdes-Scantling became the first Packers player to register 100-plus receiving yards in a playoff game on four or fewer catches since Antonio Freeman (4-107) at San Francisco on Jan. 11, 1998.

Moving parts: The Packers had to make two big changes in the second half on both sides of the ball with running back Aaron Jones (chest) and linebacker Krys Barnes (thumb) leaving with injuries.

Jones' injury came on the third play of the second half when Jordan Whitehead forced a fumble after a crosser. Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon finished the game in the backfield, combining for 58 total yards on 11 second-half touches.

Second-year linebacker Ty Summers replaced Barnes as the Mike linebacker in the second half. Barnes, the defense's second-leading tackler, came into the game with a club on his left hand due to the fractured thumb he suffered last week against the Los Angeles Rams.

Defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster briefly exited with an ankle injury but returned.

More history for Adams: Davante Adams posted nine receptions, giving him 63 in his career in the postseason as he moved into the No. 1 spot in team history ahead of WR Jordy Nelson (54).

With nine receptions, Adams became only the second player in NFL history to register nine-plus catches in three consecutive postseason games, joining Patriots WR Julian Edelman.

With the 63 catches, Adams has recorded the second-most receptions in NFL history by a player in his first 10 postseason games behind only WR Wes Welker (75).

Lambeau Field hosted the NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021.

Tough ending: From navigating the COVID-19 pandemic to overcoming injuries, the Packers battled through a lot to punch their ticket back to the NFC title game.

That's what made the sudden ending that much more difficult to reconcile.

"I truly believe this locker room loves each other," guard Lucas Patrick said. "Through thick and thin, through the ups and downs of this whole season, and look at everything that's happened outside of our locker room, from pandemic to social issues to God knows what.

"We became closer, even closer than we were last year. When a team breaks it down on 'Family!' I felt that this year. It wasn't just a saying. We truly had each other's backs. That's what makes it tough. It's hard to re-create that type of environment anywhere. This team loves each other."

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