Rodgers makes it all possible for Packers

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
11:43
PM ET
Aaron RodgersMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesEven without two of his top receivers, Aaron Rodgers threw three TD passes to lead the Packers.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It’s starting to look like it might not matter who the Green Bay Packers line up at receiver.

A street free agent cut last season by the Jacksonville Jaguars?

An undrafted rookie promoted last week from the practice squad?

As long as Aaron Rodgers is the one throwing them the ball, they will be productive.

What other explanation could there possibly be for what happened at Lambeau Field on Sunday, when seldom-used receiver Jarrett Boykin, turned away by the Jaguars more than a year ago, led the Packers with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s 31-13 rout of the Cleveland Browns?

A week earlier, Boykin dropped two passes when pressed into action after Randall Cobb (fractured fibula) and James Jones (knee) were injured against Baltimore. On Sunday, Boykin and rookie Myles White, promoted from the practiced squad last week, took their places, and the offense, while perhaps not turbocharged like usual, still had plenty of pep.

Considering what the Packers were missing, including tight end Jermichael Finley -- who left on a stretcher after a scary neck injury in the fourth quarter -- it might say more about Rodgers than anyone else.

Imagine what Boykin and White (who caught one pass for 9 yards) would have done with, say, Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden -- who completed just 40.5 percent of his passes on Sunday -- throwing them the ball?

“Yeah, that would’ve been tough,” White said when that scenario was proposed to him after the game. “But I’m just glad we’re here.”

That the Packers didn’t completely abandon their preferred three-receiver set just because Jordy Nelson was the only one of the original trio still standing tells you everything you need to know about Rodgers. Sure, they relied more than usual on their tight ends, and running back Eddie Lacy (22 carries for 82 yards and one touchdown) had another productive day.

But minus two of his top three receivers -- and then without his playmaking tight end for the final 10 minutes -- Rodgers still threw three touchdown passes without an interception. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 260 yards and finished with a passer rating of 117.8.

“I don’t think it would have been able to be possible, not without [No.] 12,” White said, referring to Rodgers. “Because he’s a genius out there on the field.”

Perhaps the smartest thing Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy did was to get Boykin involved early with a couple of short passes. On the Packers’ opening possession, Rodgers threw a hitch to Boykin, who gained 4 yards. On third-and-8 on the next possession, Rodgers went to Boykin on a stop route for a 15-yard gain, and they were off and running.

“I think he’s a confidence guy,” Rodgers said. “So we wanted to make sure we got him some plays early.”

Both of those drives ended with touchdowns -- the first on a 10-yard pass to Finley and the second on a 1-yard run by Lacy -- and the Packers proved they could function with this hodgepodge cast.

The Packers needed Boykin and, to a lesser extent, White because the Browns blanketed Nelson with their best cornerback, Joe Haden. Nelson still managed five catches for 42 yards and a touchdown, but Rodgers knew he couldn’t force the ball to him every time.

So, wisely, he didn’t.

[+] EnlargeJarrett Boykin
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsSeldom-used Jarrett Boykin played a starring role Sunday, with eight catches for 103 yards and a TD.
Rodgers targeted Boykin more often (10 times) than Nelson (six) and White (two) combined. In the second half, Boykin delivered a pair of big plays. His 39-yard catch and run set up Nelson’s 1-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, and then, Boykin scored one of his own, when he stretched out for the goal line at the end of a 20-yard reception.

“I felt like we were on a better rhythm today,” Boykin said of his connection with Rodgers. “Just a little bit of like dialing in and him giving me what he wants me to do and me focusing on what I need to do to get in an area to where he can make a terrific pass.”

Who knows how many more injuries the Packers will sustain? If Finley’s scary-looking neck injury is serious, even more will be placed on Rodgers.

But, after a day like Sunday, when the Packers (4-2) moved into first place in the NFC North, there’s little reason to think the Packers -- more specifically, Rodgers -- can’t handle it.

“There’s a lot on his shoulders, and he handles it well,” said Packers backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, who signed with the team last month. “I’ve been around some good quarterbacks, and there’s a lot of pressure on him, and he handles himself well, tremendously well.

“A lot of the stuff he does, people don’t understand because you’ve got the Peyton Mannings and the Tom Bradys who get all the attention but handles himself very well no matter what.”

Rob Demovsky

ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter

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