Against New England on Nov. 30, the rookie receiver emerged with 120 yards on six receptions as Green Bay won 26-21. Then just as quickly as Adams arrived on the scene, he vanished. He heard all the excuses from the “rookie wall,” to a loss of confidence, or fading chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Adams disputed all those scenarios, but the numbers were telling: With just four catches for 29 yards in 12 targets during the final four games of the regular season, his 33 percent catch rate was the worst in the league over the past four weeks for all receivers with at least as many targets.
So in their NFC Divisional playoff matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, with his quarterback hobbled by a strained calf, Adams seemed an unlikely candidate to spark a Packers turnaround. With Green Bay trailing 21-13 with 3:21 left in the third quarter, he broke a tackle near the sideline to turn a 4-yard gain on third-and-3 into a 16-yard play. It was just his third catch of the game. A great catch, to be sure, but hardly a sign that he had “reappeared” in a football sense. The official notice, however, was just a few plays away.
Facing a third-and-15 at the Cowboys’ 46-yard line, Adams was lined up in the slot to Rodgers’ right, with Jordy Nelson split wide. At the snap, Adams beat nickel back Sterling Moore off the line and broke hard to the inside near the first-down marker. Rodgers delivered a perfect strike to Adams at the 30-yard line as he turned upfield ahead of Moore. With free safety J.J. Wilcox closing in, Adams slowed up and gave a hard step to the inside, then cut back outside, leaving Wilcox clutching air at the 20-yard line. Adams outran strong safety Barry Church to the corner pylon for a 46-yard score that pulled Green Bay to within 21-20 after the extra point.
“That’s a little flashback to watching some film and seeing the way they play,” Adams said. “They like to commit to first move, so I tried to give them a little something inside and bounce outside and get to the end zone.”
After the Packers’ defense dropped Dallas quarterback Tony Romo on back-to-back plays to help get the ball back in Rodgers’ hands, Adams stepped up again with an 18-yard grab on second-and-8 that put Green Bay near midfield. Lined up wide to Rodgers’ left, Adams took a short route upfield for a 5-yard grab, then spun away from cornerback Orlando Scandrick to pick up another 13 yards. Rodgers connected with rookie tight end Richard Rodgers five players later for the final points of 26-21 victory.
“He’s not on the field as much as Randall and myself,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “He doesn’t get as many targets as Randall and myself, so it’s one of those things, it’s hard to get in a rhythm and to build that confidence with your quarterback, especially as a rookie. But you can tell they got into a rhythm today and had that trust today, and it was great to see and he made huge plays for us.”
Adams wasn’t done yet. With the Packers looking to run out the clock in their four-minute offense, Rodgers looked to Adams on yet another third-down play and the rookie responded with a play nearly as impressive as his touchdown. Turning back toward his quarterback at the 45-yard line, Adams made the catch with Moore on top of him, then wrestled the ball away. As Moore fell backward onto the ground, Adams ran for another 20 yards before being brought down by Scandrick.
Adams finished with a team-leading 117 yards on seven catches, just a yard ahead of teammate Randall Cobb.
“Just because I may have had a drop or two in previous weeks, (Aaron’s) confidence in me is the same as my confidence in him,” Adams said. “We’ve done a lot since I’ve been here and I’ve caught a lot more than I’ve dropped. The fact that he stays in there with me means a lot to me, so I just gotta make sure I keep doing what I have to do — keep running the routes and catch the ball when it’s thrown to me and take advantage of every opportunity. Can’t do anything about if he’s throwing it to me or not, but when he does, I need to make sure I execute.
“It means a lot to put that trust back in everybody else. … I haven’t played as well the last few weeks, so to come out here and have a big game means a lot, and get everything rolling and a full head of steam going into Seattle.”
Rodgers will need all the weapons he can find against the Legion of Boom and the rest of the Seahawks’ defense in next week’s NFC Championship Game at Seattle.
“I’m really proud of him,” Rodgers said of Adams. “He’s a great player, prepares every week the exact same. You don’t see a difference in his attitude, and that says a lot about the kind of guy he is and the kind of player he’s going to be for us.”
And if he can be the kind of player he was against Dallas next Sunday at Century Link Field, Green Bay’s chances of getting to Super Bowl XLIX got a whole lot better.