GREEN BAY—A spectacular highlight-reel catch is common for any member of the Packers receiving corps, but the clinic the group put on last Sunday might have been the most impressive collective effort in recent memory.
No less than four catches by the Packers' "big three" of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones carried a "wow" factor that demonstrated just how talented quarterback Aaron Rodgers' pass-catching trio is.
In chronological order:
Cobb made a diving, one-handed grab on a corner route between two defenders, gaining 22 yards to convert a third-and-6 and set up a first-quarter field goal.
Nelson reached high to snag a 25-yard reception near the sideline (pictured) while absorbing a legal but clothesline-like tackle by Lions safety Glover Quin, converting a third-and-15 from deep in Packers territory.
Nelson added his trademark, toe-tapping sideline catch while falling out of bounds for a 31-yard gain, leading to another field goal in the fourth quarter.
Jones jumped up and over cornerback Chris Houston to pull in a 39-yard pass despite defensive pass interference, moving the chains on third-and-3 to get the Packers in position for their fifth and final field goal.
That's a month's worth of highlights for some passing games, but the spectacular is occurring so often in Green Bay it's getting harder not to take it for granted.
"You come to expect them to make difficult catches because they've done it," Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. "But it's never routine."
Cobb apparently disagrees. Asked about his fully outstretched one-hander, he wasn't looking for extra credit.
"It's routine to me," he said. "I'm supposed to make that catch. That's my job to make those.
"Balls aren't always going to be perfect. They aren't always perfect in practice, not always perfect in games. That's our job, to make catches, regardless of where the ball is at."
Anytime the ball is along the sideline, or perhaps beyond it, Nelson certainly gives the Packers a chance. His knack for laying out to make the catch while keeping his toes in bounds is remarkable, and he's pulling it off almost weekly now. He made similar plays against San Francisco and Cincinnati earlier this season.
"He makes such incredible catches, I don't want to just brush them aside like they didn't happen, but you're not really surprised a whole lot," Rodgers said. "He's so talented.
"You gotta admit those aren't made by every receiver across the league. He's a special receiver."
Head Coach Mike McCarthy noted that some credit must go to Rodgers for his well-placed sideline throws, especially because they're often made on the run. He also spoke of Nelson's body control, hands and awareness, as well as the "connection" he and Rodgers share on the field.
"Aaron has great trust that Jordy is going to go get those throws," McCarthy said.
Nelson acknowledged that trust does play a key role, with all of Rodgers' receivers, and he said Rodgers more often than not is going to put the ball where the receiver can get it and the defender can't.
On the diving, sideline plays, it starts there, with a throw in no danger of being deflected or intercepted. Beyond that, Nelson's primary focus is on making the catch, and his feet aren't even on his mind. At a certain point, he knows he can't move his feet, so he forgets about them and contorts the rest of his body to haul in the ball.
"You have to be able to catch the ball first no matter what," Nelson said. "If you don't catch the ball it doesn't matter what your feet do. So catch the ball, kind of let your feet go dead, and hopefully they land in bounds."
It seems they do, every time.
"It's a matter of concentration," Clements said, "but those aren't routine by any stretch." Additional coverage - Oct. 10