In 17 snaps on Sunday, Green Bay Packers tight end Justin Perillo caught five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.
That’s more yards than starter Richard Rodgers has had in any game this season. In fact, Rodgers has never had more than 58 yards in any game of the second-year pro’s career.
“I made some catches but, at the end of the day, you just want to get that win,” Perillo said. “That’s all that matters. Who cares about the stats? Who cares about how many catches I had? I just want to win.”
For Perillo, the big game was the latest step in his journey. An undrafted free agent out of Maine last year, Perillo pushed for a roster spot last summer but fell short. He opened the season on the practice squad, was promoted to the active roster in November and played 11 snaps on offense in two games. This summer, Perillo appeared to be the front-runner for the No. 3 tight end job before he was sidelined by a concussion. Again, he failed to make the roster and opened the season on the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster before the Week 6 game vs. San Diego and entered the Detroit game with two catches for 27 yards.
Against the Lions, tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot inserted Perillo into the lineup to give the overused Rodgers a rest. Perillo did much more than that, with all of his production coming in the final 13 minutes and helping to jump-start the Packers’ rally. The catch that was particularly impressive was a 24-yard gain against tight coverage on third-and-15.
“Aaron made an amazing throw in the red zone for Justin Perillo’s first touchdown,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “I always tease guys that the ball gets thrown so good (by Aaron Rodgers) that the ball practically catches itself, and J.P. ran a really good route. He had really good focus on that, but the ball was right there (and) he did what he was supposed to do. Fully expect him to make those plays. The play he made over the middle was a good football play. I mean, first thing he said to me whenever he came off to the sideline, and I had commented on what a great catch it was, he said, ‘Well, Coach, it was a perfect ball. If I had missed it, I’d have been angry with myself.’ So, that’s the kind of attitude that he’s got.”
Perillo downplayed all of that.
“I still have a lot to improve on,” he said. “Each and every day, I’ve still got to get better. I still have things I can improve on with my blocking and my route-running.”
Richard Rodgers has been a solid option. He’s second on the team with 33 receptions, fifth among all tight ends with five touchdowns and has dropped just one pass. Perillo, however, brings an explosive element that Rodgers lacks. Before the 2014 draft, 6-foot-4 Rodgers ran his 40-yard dash in 4.87 seconds at the Scouting Combine; the 6-foot-3 Perillo wasn’t invited to the Combine but ran in 4.76 at Maine’s pro day.
“I’ve always had confidence in Justin,” Fontenot said. “He’s got very good focus and he’s got solid hands. The kid knows how to run routes. I think he’s a challenge for defenders to cover, just because he has some sudden burst. I’m not going to say that he’s going to outrun everybody on the field, but he does his fair share of running past guys. So, he’s got good things working for him in his favor.”
From their time on the practice field, it’s clear Aaron Rodgers has confidence in Perillo. Now that Perillo’s proven he can deliver when it counts, perhaps he’s earned a bigger role on offense.
“Hopefully, it does,” he said. “I still have to do it this week. I’ve got to do it each and every week. That’s in the past. That happened Sunday and it’s over with. I’m just focusing on the Vikings.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.