"I was very impressed with him in person," McCarthy recalled Wednesday. "Sometimes when you don't see players until the first time you see them live, you appreciate them. I was impressed with him that day and it's no surprise to me that he is having the back-to-back-to-back seasons that he has."
White was a beast that October day in 2008, catching eight passes for 132 yards and a touchdown against the Packers, all in the first half as the Falcons won 27-24. Only one other receiver since – the Lions' Calvin Johnson – has had more receptions in a game against the Packers.
"He's fast, he runs great routes, he's physical, and he plays hard," said Packers safety Charlie Peprah of White. "He he has good hands. He's the prototypical receiver."
No more is that true than this season. Among three other teammates – quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner and tight end Tony Gonzalez – playing at high levels, White is putting up off-the-charts numbers. With just six games remaining, he is on pace for 126 receptions and 1,627 receiving yards, which would rank the second and 11th best , respectively, in NFL history.
"I think he definitely would fall into the category of a complete receiver," said McCarthy.
The Packers have done a good job of late holding down top receiving weapons. After yielding some production to the Lions' Johnson, the Redskins' Santana Moss and the Dolphins' Brandon Marshall earlier this season, in the past three games opposing No. 1 receivers have caught just five passes for 60 yards against the Packers.
By mixing coverages, getting Pro Bowl-level play from Tramon Williams, and using Charles Woodson as almost a third safety, the Packers have kept offenses off-balance. White, however, will present them with their most difficult challenge yet considering his gaudy numbers and how the Falcons have used him.
"He can run all the routes," said Peprah. "They throw him screens, deep balls, in routes, out breaking cuts, and he blocks. He's a playmaker. So why not get him the ball?
"We just need to know where he is at all times. We know they're going to try and get him the ball. They've got other receivers we have to worry about too, so you can't just worry about him, but we've got to know where he's at and play good coverage on him."
The Falcons' second-leading wide receiver, Michael Jenkins, has just 20 catches. Gonzalez, at tight end, has 45 and is a factor to be reckoned with. But when the Falcons look to move the chains, White is their man. It should be no surprise that he leads the league in receptions (79), considering he has been targeted a league-high 116 times (or 11.6 per game). He also leads the league with 51 receiving first downs.
"Very productive," McCarthy continued in his assessment. "Obviously, he is one of the targets that we'll be focused on."
In addition to the play of Williams and Woodson, rookie Sam Shields has had his opportunities against No. 1 receivers and no doubt will get his chance again on Sunday. Though he had yet to review film of White before Wednesday's practice, he said he will rely on something he has gained this season from going up against so many other No. 1s.
"I've got a lot more confidence guarding guys now," he said. "I think it will help me in the long run. I've just got to continue watching film and studying and watching those guys. And also I'm going up against some of the top receivers in practice, so that makes it easier, too, when it comes to the game."
Over the last two games, White has had his most productive back-to-back performances with 21 catches combined and a game-winning touchdown against the Ravens late in the fourth quarter on Nov. 11. Though he sat out of Wednesday's practice (knee), he has played the last two-and-a-half games with the same injury. All indications are that he will return to practice Thursday and start Sunday.
Packers vs. No. 1 receivers
Week 1 vs. Eagles – Jeremy Maclin, 1 catch for 11 yards
Week 2 vs. Bills – Steve Johnson, 3 for 31
Week 3 vs. Bears – Johnny Knox, 4 for 94
Week 4 vs. Lions – Calvin Johnson, 6 for 86, 2 TD's
Week 5 vs. Redskins – Santana Moss, 7 for 118
Week 6 vs. Dolphins – Brandon Marshall, 10 for 127
Week 7 vs. Vikings – Percy Harvin, 5 for 65
Week 8 vs. Jets – Braylon Edwards, 1 for 32
Week 9 vs. Cowboys – Miles Austin, 2 for 16
Week 11 vs. Vikings – Harvin, 2 for 12
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at email@example.com