GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jarrett Boykin didn’t catch a pass the first four games of the season. Of course, it’s hard to catch the ball when you’re not on the field.
The Green Bay Packers’ second-year receiver played only 10 snaps in those four games.
Andrew Quarless’ start to the season wasn’t much more productive. Through six games, the fourth-year tight end caught just four passes for 28 yards while playing in the shadow of starter Jermichael Finley.
But here they are in Week 16, the unlikely twosome of Boykin and Quarless who, thanks to injuries at their respective positions, have become major contributors on a team that is two wins away from an unlikely playoff berth.
“Let’s be honest, we’ve had a number of players perform, play for us this year that probably I didn’t think were going to play this year,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s just the way our season went.”
All teams must replace injured players. But not all of them get the kind of production that Boykin and Quarless have provided.
Boykin’s chance came after Randall Cobb (broken tibia) and James Jones (knee) went down on Oct. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens. Jones missed only two games, but Cobb has yet to return, making Boykin the No. 3 receiver in an offense that more often than not considers the three-receiver set its base personnel.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Boykin showed almost immediately that he belonged with eight catches, 103 yards and a touchdown in his first start against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 20.
It was that same game in which Quarless’ opportunity presented itself in the form of a season-ending neck injury to Finley. It took Quarless a little longer to make an impact, but the past two weeks he has been one of the key components in comeback wins over the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys.
In each of the past two games, Quarless had the same line: six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. It was almost as if he made a deal with the devil. Instead, he took what tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said before the Atlanta game – that he needed more production from Quarless – to heart.
“[With Finley] going down, I was asked to do a little more, which increased my reps and stuff like that,” said Quarless, who missed all of last season while recovering from a 2011 knee injury. “But at the beginning of the season, I’ve been locked in and just with a little opportunity, you stack success.”
Boykin, a former undrafted free agent who was signed by the Packers last season after the Jacksonville Jaguars cut him, did that from the start. With 42 catches for 619 yards and two touchdowns since Week 6, his season total to date would project to 67 catches for 990 yards over a full, 16-game schedule.
“He didn’t get a lot of reps, but we seen all the plays he made in practice,” Jones said. “With [Boykin], it was just all about the opportunity, an opportunity and getting a chance to show his self. He’s a special player. Great hands, big and strong. He’ll be fine. He’s going to help us in the long run, as well, and he’s having a great year.”
The Packers still rely heavily on Jones (44 catches for 692 yards and three touchdowns) and leading receiver Jordy Nelson (72 catches for 1,107 yards and eight touchdowns) but in the 23-point, second-half win over the Cowboys, it was Boykin and Quarless who led the way. Boykin matched Quarless with six catches and had 83 yards, including a 27-yarder on a back-shoulder throw that set up the Packers’ second-to-last touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“You’re seeing Andrew Quarless, he’s stepped up his game the last two weeks,” McCarthy said. “Jarrett Boykin, he’s been playing solid for us for two months. It’s good to see these young guys step up and grow and take advantage of the opportunities that are present because of just the way we’re playing now.”