- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Some of you laughed, some of you listened and many of you mocked the audacity of some two-bit blogger's observation during a tiny window of an NFL training camp. To be sure, I'm nothing but a football amateur. Yet even to me, it was obvious last month that Randall Cobb would be the NFC North's newest dynamic playmaker.
I can't say I expected Cobb to score a pair of touchdowns in his NFL debut, as he did Thursday night in the Green Bay Packers' wild 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints. But every now and then, a player comes along whose open-field running skills transcend the trained eye and are obvious to the masses. In this instance, you knew it was a matter of time.
"He's shown that from the first day of training camp," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "When other players talk about a player having a chance to be special, he is one of those guys. He's very raw. He's picking up our system. But he knows what to do when he gets the football in his hands, and he knows how to get open. He's a gifted young man with a lot of good football in front of him."
Cobb touched the ball on five live plays Thursday night. One was a 108-yard kickoff return, tied for the longest touchdown return in NFL history. Another was a 32-yard touchdown reception. That both came after what Cobb admitted were "rookie mistakes" only added to the significance of his debut. Namely: In his first NFL game, and 17 days after his 21st birthday, Cobb turned two busted plays into thrilling touchdowns in a nationally televised prime-time game.
"That's special," receiver Greg Jennings said, "and I don't care who does it or how."
There were a number of takeaways from Thursday night's game. I'm sure many of you are concerned about a defense that gave up 419 passing yards to Saints quarterback Drew Brees and needed a goal-line stop on the game's final play to ensure victory. The uncertain status of cornerback Tramon Williams (shoulder) is also troubling, but for me it was hard to avoid putting Cobb at the top of my postgame list.
We've spent plenty of time discussing the Packers' logjam of offensive skill players and wondering how they all could fit together. Would Cobb get blocked from an offensive contribution, especially early in the season? The answer, based on Thursday night's game, was most definitely not.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers spread his 27 completions among nine receivers. On a first down in the first quarter, Rodgers changed the play just before the snap. Cobb's rookie wires got crossed, however, and instead of running a drag route to the sidelines, he ran a slant over the middle. Rodgers followed along, hit him in stride at the 25-yard line and watched as Cobb ran away from safety Roman Harper, put a move on safety Malcolm Jenkins and then leaped over the goal line.
"I ran the wrong route and luckily scored," Cobb said. "I'm going to hear about that in meeting tomorrow and probably get a negative [grade] for it. But we just made a play. That was the big thing."
Indeed, Cobb got a negative grade during the game from McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum after breaking a team rule on his third-quarter kickoff return. In the wake of the NFL's decision to move kickoffs to the 35-yard line, Slocum has instructed returners to line up 5 yards deep in the end zone.
"If I have to take any steps back," Cobb said, "the rule is don't bring it out. And I did. I'm going to be in trouble for that one. I'm thinking I'm going to get chewed out. "
"The first thing that Slocum tells us is to pick up the returner when he gets tackled," Kuhn said. "I just wanted to pick him up before he got tackled."
Still, Cobb displayed unteachable instincts and the presence of mind to accelerate downfield before the Saints realized what had happened.
"I just got lost in the moment there," Cobb said. "I just trusted in God. He told me to bring it out. I'm not supposed to bring that out at all. I'm not. Some things are illogical, and some things are the power of God. That definitely was the power of God telling me to bring it out. And he gave me great teammates to help block downfield."
McCarthy was admittedly furious that Cobb broke the 5-yard rule, but sometimes as a coach you have to shake your head and accept when a player's skills make all your structure irrelevant.
It's worth noting that Cobb quickly kneeled on his next return, which he fielded 7 yards deep in the end zone. The Packers weren't making any immediate changes to their rules, but I honestly wonder whether NFL teams watched what happened Thursday night and re-evaluated their planned responses to the league's new rule.
Of the 12 kickoffs Thursday night, eight went for touchbacks. One was an onside kick. One was returned 108 yards and another 57 yards (by the Saints' Darren Sproles).
If you have a potentially game-breaking returner, do you give him more leeway than you were previously planning? Should the rule really dictate touchbacks on 75 percent of a game's kickoffs?
Cobb demonstrated the benefits of the former, even if it was unintended.
"I scored two touchdowns, and they were both mess-ups," he said, laughing in the Packers' celebratory postgame locker room. "They'll go down as 'MAs.' Missed assignments. But my first game, it exceeded all of my expectations."
Maybe for the first game. But you knew it was coming sometime. NFC North, meet Randall Cobb. He's going to be around for a while.