Jordy Nelson is playing better, in part, because he’s feeling better.
Nelson, who missed last season with a torn ACL, has been the NFL’s most productive wide receiver during the Green Bay Packers’ five-game winning streak. He’s tied with Seattle’s Doug Baldwin with a league-high 38 receptions, has the outright lead with 528 yards and is tied for the lead with five receiving touchdowns.
“The body has felt great, to be honest with you, all year long,” Nelson said this week. “I do think my body feels better now than it did maybe a few weeks ago. I think for me, the more work I do throughout the week, the better I am. The moment I started getting days off like after our bye week and stuff, it was invigorated. It’s been great to be out there in practice every week and be prepared for games.”
At least compared to his sizzling production down the stretch, Nelson got off to a slow start to this season. While he scored five touchdowns in his first four games, Nelson opened the season with six receptions for only 32 yards in Week 1 at Jacksonville, five receptions out of 11 targets in Week 2 against Minnesota, four catches out of 13 targets vs. the Giants in Week 5 and one catch for 9 yards vs. Chicago in Week 7.
The slow start – well, slow-ish start – wasn’t unexpected. Nelson sat out the offseason practices, barely practiced in training camp and didn’t have any game action with Aaron Rodgers during the preseason. That made the start of the season equivalent to the preseason.
“I think just the way we held him on PUP and all that, we couldn’t have been more cautious with him,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “You definitely see the benefits of that, but I felt like we put a lot of stress on him early in the year to perform at such a high level. He’ll be the first to tell you, he needs the practice, he needs some preseason game work. To go right from a very conservative approach throughout training camp and then go into that game, I forget, it’s what, 110-112 heat index down in Jacksonville? That was a tough task for anybody, let alone Jordy, because he just didn’t have the investment of a lot of snaps throughout training camp. It took him a little while to get going. He’s no different than any player in this league that’s coming off of major knee surgery. That first year back from major joint surgery, it’s tough. It’s a grind because everything is a little different. He’s done a great job working through it, though.”
Nelson has been dominant down the stretch and will be a key figure for the Packers in Sunday’s showdown at Detroit. After being limited to three receptions for 28 yards in the loss at Washington – the last game of a four-game losing streak – Nelson has been a driving force for a red-hot offense. He caught eight passes (12 targets) for 91 yards against Philadelphia, eight passes (10 yards) for 118 yards and one touchdown vs. Houston, six passes (seven targets) for 41 yards and two touchdowns vs. Seattle, seven passes (10 targets) for 124 yards vs. Chicago and nine receptions (11 targets) for 154 yards and two touchdowns vs. Minnesota.
“It’s a testament to his character, honestly,” receivers coach Luke Getsy said on Thursday. “He’s the same guy every day. Comes in, he works his butt off. Any challenge that’s put in front of him, he’s going to knock it out. His approach every single day is what’s so impressive about him. I don’t think there’s anybody in this building that wouldn’t think he was going to progress the way he did. I don’t think this is a surprise to anybody in the room, to how well he’s doing and how much better he’s gotten by playing more football each and every week.”
Nelson would love to play at least a few more games. Getting that opportunity might ride on the Packers’ performance on Sunday night at Ford Field. With a win, the Packers will capture the NFC North championship. A loss might end their season.
“You can just (feel) the energy and the crowd,” Nelson said. “The speed of the game will pick up. It’s as close to a playoff game as you can without it being one. But they’re the fun ones to play, they’re the ones you remember. I mean, we won’t ever forget when we were down in Chicago a few years ago, or when we beat Chicago here in 2010. Those are the ones that will always be a key game in the season and could start a run. This is another one in a long stretch and we just need to go out and execute.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.