Moments after the Packers clinched their third consecutive NFC North championship on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers made it a point to find Marquez Valdes-Scantling inside the visitors' locker room at M&T Bank Stadium.
Once Rodgers did, the NFL's reigning MVP had a short, but to the point, message for his fourth-year receiver, whose five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown went a long way in Green Bay securing a hard-fought 31-30 win over the Baltimore Ravens…and the divisional title that came with it.
"I said, 'That's the Marquez I know,'" Rodgers recalled in his post-game Zoom. "I'm very, very proud of him."
It has been a challenging year for Valdes-Scantling, who missed five games earlier this season due to a hamstring injury. He also had been limited in practice the past few weeks with hip and back injuries.
Since returning from the hamstring, the 6-foot-4, 206-pound receiver has had big moments like his four-catch, 123-yard day against Minnesota last month. There also have been a few games, like last week against Chicago, where Valdes-Scantling played more of a complementary role to other skill-position players in Green Bay's multi-faceted offense.
But with the Ravens shading heavy coverage the way of All-Pro receiver Davante Adams on Sunday, it allowed Valdes-Scantling more one-on-one opportunities and he responded in a big way.
Valdes-Scantling's 31-yard catch in the second quarter wound up being the Packers' longest play of the afternoon and keyed the offense's first scoring drive, culminating in an AJ Dillon 2-yard touchdown run.
"He was just the spark that we needed," Aaron Jones said of Valdes-Scantling. "I'm glad he was able to suit up and get out there and he was definitely a big spark for us."
In addition to bringing in a beautiful 24-yard catch before halftime, Valdes-Scantling was critical on perhaps the most important drive of the game for the Packers at the start of the fourth quarter.
It began with Valdes-Scantling catching a 25-yard pass on a slant to convert on third-and-9. He then hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass off another slant from Rodgers to give Green Bay its first two-score lead of the game, 28-17, with 12 minutes, 58 seconds remaining.
The play also happened to be the 442nd touchdown pass of Rodgers' career, tying him with Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre for the franchise's all-time record.
"That's just a crazy accomplishment, and I definitely kept that football," Valdes-Scantling said. "That one's not going anywhere. If it was broken, I would have gave it to him, but that one's mine. That's just a great accomplishment for him, and I just love that I'm a part of it."
Like last year, when he led all NFL receivers with 20.9 yards per catch, Valdes-Scantling is once again near the top of the league in explosive plays (17.1). But his performance in Baltimore was another indication of how far Valdes-Scantling has come as a complete route-runner.
Even when he was catching passes early, Valdes-Scantling didn't think much about whether it was going to be his night. He just wanted to be in the right spot when Rodgers looked his way.
"You have to have that mindset as a receiver … we want the ball every single play," Valdes-Scantling said. "If we can throw the ball 60 times and I get 60 targets, I want it. That's kind of the mindset for it. I don't really go into it thinking this is going to be my night, because I think every night is going to be my night."
The Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens faced off in America's Game of the Week on Dec. 19, 2021.
On Sunday, for example, Rodgers completed passes to eight different receivers. After leaning on Lazard (six catches for 75 yards and a TD last week vs. Chicago), Rodgers was happy to show what's possible when Valdes-Scantling gets going.
Although the division title is locked up, Green Bay is playing the next three weeks to maintain its grip on the top spot in the NFC playoff race. There's no doubt in Rodgers' mind Valdes-Scantling will play an important role in achieving that goal.
"Marquez … is a special human being," Rodgers said. "I could feel confidence-wise, he's been a little up and down. To be able to have him come out tonight and play the way he played, catch the record-tying touchdown, I think was very apropos of football and the beauty and the redemption stories that happen every single week. So, I'm really happy for Marquez."