He proceeded to call himself out on what he didn’t do in the Green Bay Packers’ 31-24 comeback victory over the Jets in the team’s home opener.
“I left some plays out there, quite honestly,” Nelson said. “I had an opportunity to make some plays and didn’t do it. The second-to-last third down – I should’ve caught that. If I would’ve caught that, we would’ve stayed out there and wouldn’t have had to put our defense back out there. There are plays in my head that I know I messed up on and need to make.”
It’s worth noting, of course, that Nelson’s harsh self-assessment comes after he posted the best receiving game by a Green Bay Packer in a decade, with nine catches for 209 yards and an 80-yard score that proved to be the deciding points. That score was the fourth 80-plus-yard play of his career, and the yardage total ties him with Don Hutson for the fourth-best receiving day in Packers history.
The fact that Nelson’s maintained the humble personality, team-first attitude and work ethic from his small-town Kansas roots, even as his play on the field (and salary from a recently inked contract) has placed him among the game’s elite wide receivers, is why Packers fans love him. Even as he walked off Lambeau Field with fans chanting his name, he pointed to teammate Randall Cobb, who had two touchdowns on the day.
“We put in a lot of hard work throughout the week and, obviously, throughout the game,” Nelson said. “And it’s a joy to run off that field.”
It didn’t look like anyone in Green and Gold would be savoring much joy early on. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers fumbled on the first snap of the game, setting up a Geno Smith-to-Eric Decker touchdown that put the Jets up 7-0. Barely 5 minutes into the second quarter, that deficit had grown to 21-3, as Green Bay seemed to be suffering a hangover from its season-opening defeat at Seattle on both sides of the ball.
But if the fans were panicking, Nelson says the sideline was calm.
“I told our receivers, ‘Don’t try and do something special,’” Nelson said. “The moment you do that, you get careless, you get loose with the ball or you try to turn your head too quick and run, and all that stuff. So, just stay with what we’re able to do. We knew our defense would turn it around. We put them in a bad spot right off the bat and gave the Jets some momentum. But we knew we’d be able to move the ball, so we just needed to stay calm, don’t try to do too much, make the simple play and do what we can do.”
Nelson was already doing what he does, outjumping defenders and breaking tackles on his way to four first-half grabs for 66 yards that helped Green Bay claw its way back to 21-16. Cobb capped the half with a 6-yard touchdown grab. Rodgers had thrown a whopping 30 times and scrambled for 30 yards through two quarters, as the Jets stayed with their base 3-4 defensive scheme even when Green Bay went with its three-wide receiver sets.
“That took away some of our runs,” Cobb said. “But we were able to figure that out and adjust to it and get the ball in the air and make some plays.”
After the break, Cobb and Rodgers connected again on a third-quarter score and the ensuing two-point conversion that gave the Packers their first lead of the game, 24-21. But when the Jets’ Nick Folk booted a 52-yard field goal to put things even, the stage was set for Nelson to make one of those simple plays he told his fellow receivers to focus on.
Following a touchback that gave the Packers first-and-10 at their 20-yard line, Rodgers pulled out from under center and faked a handoff to Eddie Lacy, then turned and heaved it down the right sideline. Nelson had given a fake of his own – an out move against cornerback Dee Milliner, who turned to the sideline and spun around while Nelson took his pattern straight up the field. Hauling in Rodgers’ pass near midfield, Nelson turned inside as rookie safety Calvin Pryor slid past him and sprinted across the field for the 80-yard score and, most importantly to him, the lead.
“I didn’t know where the safety would be, if he’d be playing over the top or what, and Aaron put it in a perfect spot and allowed me to catch it and get the score,” Nelson said.
On the play, Nelson was the only wide receiver on the field, lined up alone to the right. Green Bay had tight end Andrew Quarless on the left, rookie tight end Richard Rodgers on the right and John Kuhn and Lacy in the backfield.
“Jordy gives you those opportunities to really make some special plays,” said Rodgers, “and they rolled some different coverages his way, and they left him one-on-one on that out-and-up for the touchdown and he made the most of it.”
The score put Nelson at 190 yards on the day. Even he would admit afterward that something about 200 sounded a whole lot better. So, after a drop on third-and-2 that led to a Jets touchdown that turned out to be a timeout, Nelson inched closer with a 4-yard grab. After the Packers’ defense stopped the Jets on fourth down at the Green Bay 28 with 3:31 to go, Nelson turned a short catch on the ensuing drive into a 15-yard gain, which allowed the team to run out the clock. He finished the game with 209 yards.
“I didn’t want to get stuck at 195 (yards) so we needed that one,” Nelson said. “And obviously it sealed the win for us, that’s the main thing.”
Spoken like a player that will spend more time critiquing his drops than enjoying his highlights.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.