In last year’s NFC Championship Game, Richard Rodgers caught four passes for 35 yards. It would be the culmination of a strong finishing kick to the season for Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers’ rookie tight end. He caught five passes for 40 yards in the Week 17 win over Detroit and scored a touchdown in the playoff victory over Dallas.
On Sunday night, Rodgers and the Packers get another shot at the Seahawks. Rodgers could play a key role, with one of the Packers’ Pro Bowl receivers, Jordy Nelson, out for the season and the other, Randall Cobb, potentially going up against the best defensive back in the game, Richard Sherman.
“It’s just taking advantage of your opportunities when you get them,” Rodgers said. “We have some great receivers and obviously we have Eddie (Lacy) and a great offensive line and the best quarterback in the game. We just take advantage of our opportunities whenever we get them and whenever they come.”
In the title game, that’s exactly what Rodgers did. Three of his catches went for first downs. All of those possessions wound up in scores – two field goals and a touchdown.
“He showed an ability to get his eyes on the quarterback in a timely fashion when he felt like he was uncovered,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “He made a few good catches and took some shots in that game. He had some opportunities that he capitalized on. There were some things that showed up in my mind later in the game in terms of not getting off the snap count in a timely fashion, which hurt him. But overall, it was kind of a culmination of progress up until that point because he had done some good things periodically throughout the season from the time that he first started getting some playing time. By the end of the season, I thought that he was playing pretty solid.”
Rodgers has taken the requisite Year 1 to Year 2 jump that is demanded by coach Mike McCarthy and is necessary as part of the Packers’ draft-and-develop philosophy. McCarthy said Rodgers had several “wow moments” during training camp, and Rodgers continued that last week at Chicago. He had three catches for 27 yards against the Bears.
“I think he’s really picked up right where he left off,” Fontenot said. “This whole offseason, he dedicated himself to learning from last year and taking pointers, taking his discussions with the quarterback and how the quarterback envisions the passing game. Looking at himself and how he can best serve the team, he’s a very introspective guy. He understands the things that he does well and he wants to do everything that you ask him to do well. He’s not afraid of work. He did some good work this offseason to come back ready to get better.”
Rodgers might be an inviting target for Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night. Last week, the Seahawks allowed the Rams’ tight ends to catch seven passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. Only three teams allowed more receptions to tight ends than Seattle. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Seahawks are without All-Pro Kam Chancellor, who is holding out. Lance Kendricks’ 37-yard touchdown came when Chancellor’s replacement, Dion Bailey, fell in coverage.
Without Chancellor and Nelson, and with the potential that a banged-up Cobb might not be able to have his way with the remarkable Sherman, the Packers might wind up leaning on Rodgers to move the chains.
Rodgers, as is his understated style, downplayed all of that.
“We have good weapons all around, so it’s not like any of us has to produce,” Rodgers said. “We just go out and do our job. Whatever the coaches ask us to do, whatever Aaron asks us to do, we try to do that and catch every ball that’s thrown to us.”