Packers WR Randall Cobb Electric in Return Against Giants

With the Packers' offense struggling and Jordy Nelson out with injured ribs, it was Randall Cobb to the rescue with a three-touchdown performance after missing the past two games.

All the Green Bay Packers' offense needed was a spark. What they got was a lightning rod.

After missing the past two games with an ankle injury and unsure if he’d even be cleared to take the field for a Wild Card playoff matchup against the New York Giants, receiver Randall Cobb hauled in five catches for a 116 yards and three touchdowns -- including a 42-yard Hail Mary at the end of the first half that gave Green Bay a 14-6 lead and jump-started a stunningly sluggish offense to a 38-13 victory.

“God is good. God is great. It’s a blessing just to be back on the field and be able to come up and make some plays. I’m glad I could be out there,” said Cobb, who tied a Packers and NFL record for receiving touchdowns in a playoff game.

“I heard (about the record) after the game. That’s pretty cool. But bigger picture, it’s all about our win tonight. We were able to get it done as a team. Defensively creating turnovers, our special teams put us in great position on offense to be able to make some of those plays.”

There were few plays made by Green Bay in the first quarter-and-a-half. Before Cobb caught his first pass of the afternoon – a 13-yarder on first down from the Packers’ 22-yard line – Green Bay was outpaced by New York 124 to minus-8 in yards and 3-0 on the scoreboard. Adding injury to insult, leading receiver Jordy Nelson was taken to the locker room on a cart after bobbling a pass on the sideline and taking a hard helmet shot to the ribs from Giants safety Leon Hall.

The Packers would eventually take a 7-6 lead after Rodgers found Davante Adams for 31 yards down the right sideline ahead of Giants cornerback Eli Apple, and then on the left edge of the end zone for a 5-yard score. It was the first thing to go right to that point for Green Bay, but for an offense and quarterback that seemingly scored at will over the past six weeks, this lead was as much the result of drops by New York’s much-heralded receiving corps as anything the Packers had done. The loss of Nelson only made matters worse.

When Jared Cook was unable to hang onto a Rodgers pass with 6 seconds left in the half and the Packers without a timeout, it set the stage for a dramatic fourth-and-2 from the Giants’ 42. Rodgers took the shotgun snap and rolled to his right, backing up to his own 47 before leaning back and heaving it up into the frigid January night.

Cobb was lined up in the outside position, one of three pass catchers to the left, and streaked into the end zone at the snap. As a mob of eight players jockeyed for position, Adams went up to try and catch the ball at its highest point. Cook was in front of the play in case it was tipped forward, while Jeff Janis – who caught his own playoff Hail Mary a year ago at Arizona -- came in from the right side. But Cobb had slid to the back of the crowd, behind Giants safety Landon Collins and Apple, and inexplicably caught a pass that somehow came in untouched over the top of everyone – literally falling out of the sky and into his waiting hands as he fell backward out of the end zone.

“My job on that play is to kind of box out and give our jumper (Adams) a little space to jump,” Cobb said. “But I got behind the defense and was able to nudge a guy and make the catch.

“It’s normally tipped and you’re trying to make a play off the tip, but I was able to get a clean look at it.”

It’s the third Hail Mary the Packers have pulled off in the last 13 months. First it was Rodgers to tight end Richard Rodgers at Detroit on Dec. 3, 2015. Then Janis pulled one down last year against the Cardinals in the divisional playoff round to send the game into overtime. And now this.
“Every single time it’s fun,” Rodgers said. “I think we’re starting to believe any time that ball goes up there we’ve got a chance. I can throw it pretty good, but it’s got to happen on the other end as well. I was actually just watching it before I walked in here, the replay of it, and it looks like — as is the case many times in these situations — there was a little bit of a misjudging of the football by kind of the middle of the pack there. As I watch it, it reminds me of the (Doug) Flutie-(Gerard) Phelan (1984 Hail Mary touchdown by Boston College against Miami) where he just kind of sneaks behind the last defender.

“The high arc is definitely by design. I want to make sure those guys have a chance to get down there and jump. But the key is the offensive line giving me a little bit of time. So we did a little roll to the right, and obviously back side was firm in the protection. By the time I hit my spot on the field where I wanted to throw it, I’m 100 percent confident that the ball is going to be catchable in a catchable spot. It’s just a matter of those guys getting the right situation, and that’s how your draw it up. You have the jumper, you have the guy behind him and a guy in front. Obviously, you don’t catch it every time, but we’ve been fairly successful.”

The Giants pulled to within a point when they scored on a big play of their own. Following a failed fourth-down attempt by Green Bay with 6:08 to go in the third quarter, Eli Manning hit receiver Tavarres King for a 41-yard score when he got behind Packers cornerback Damarious Randall to make it 14-13.

King wound up leading the Giants with 73 receiving yards. But that was actually bad news for Giants receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shephard and Victor Cruz, who finished with 28, 63, and 30 yards, respectively, a handful of drops, and not a touchdown among them. Green Bay, meanwhile, was finding the rhythm that was missing at the start of the game, scoring on their next four possessions – two courtesy of Cobb -- to make it a blowout win.

With 3 minutes left in the third quarter, Cobb lined up in the right slot and cut to the middle of the field, giving a shoulder shimmy to cornerback Trevin Wade, filling in for starter Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who left in the first quarter with a bruised thigh. Rodgers hit Cobb in stride as he raced to the end zone for a 30-yard score and a 21-13 lead.

After a 32-yard field goal by Mason Crosby at the end of the third, Rodgers capped a 10-play drive with a 16-yard toss to Cobb on a similar play. This time however, Cobb was racing across the back of the end zone, waving his arm at his quarterback.

“It’s one of our base plays that, we run off our vertical packages,” Cobb said. “Just sticking to my fundamentals. It was the same play on both of them but just being able to beat the defender in different ways and was able to make the catch.”

It was a far different scenario than Cobb’s last playoff game, when a lung injury had him coughing up blood and ultimately watching the end of the overtime loss from a hospital bed.

“That was a very tough deal last year in Arizona,” Cobb said. “Being stuck in the hospital watching the game from a hospital bed and knowing there was nothing I could do about it, and then being able to play tonight and try to make plays when I’m presented with those opportunities and put our team in a great position for a win.”

He’ll be counted on to make the most of those opportunities again next week when the team travels to Dallas for the divisional round of the playoffs and a trip to the NFC title game on the line. If Nelson remains out, Cobb and Adams – who finished with eight catches for 125 yards and a score – will be needed again.

That could mean a spark. Or it could mean more lightning.

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