Jennings turning heads

Wide receiver leaves injuries, defenders in his wake to make big plays

There I was, probably like many other Green Bay Packers fans, watching as Brett Favre and Co. took the field in overtime last Monday at Denver. The feeling was this, "If the Packers lose this game, it will be a case of missed chances." The Packers twice drove the ball deep into Broncos territory and had to settle for field goals. Would this come back to bite them?

Before I could answer the question, Favre threw a pass, which covered 50 yards in the air and fell into the waiting hands of wide receiver Greg Jennings. The second-year player beat cornerback Dre' Bly by a couple steps and sped to end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

Jennings was the unsung hero on the play. Because Favre is a legend, ESPN and anybody else with a heartbeat, was talking up the future Hall of Famer and with good reason. However, Jennings' ability to beat Bly, a respected cornerback, was the reason the pass was caught.

If Jennings gets jammed or thrown off his route, the ball falls incomplete. Notwithstanding, if you've been watching Jennings since his arrival last year, you have learned this kid can play. A second-round pick out of Western Michigan in 2006, Jennings had a stellar start to his career before suffering an ankle injury midway through last season. He was never the same.

Jennings then opened the regular season on the sideline with a hamstring injury and missed the first two games. Since his return, Jennings has reminded us he's a key to the Packers' offense.

While Jennings had a quiet preseason, third-round pick James Jones was catching passes and praise, and there was talk Jones would be No. 2 behind Donald Driver, even when Jennings returned. Jones was impressive, but what many forgot was what Jennings did when healthy last season.

He earned a spot on the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team after catching 45 passes for 632 yards and three touchdowns. He was receiving praise like Jones was earlier this season.

Then, when Jennings returned, he made his presence known by turning a slant pass into a 57-yard touchdown reception when he outran San Diego's secondary. The hamstring was fine and Jennings was back.

Coach Mike McCarthy said leading up to this game he was leery of Jennings.

"Especially being a receiver, hamstring injuries with your perimeter players, it's important to get them back to 100 percent, because if you don't, you're in a continuous pattern that you don't want to be in as far as him up and down." Since then, Jennings has been the Packers' big-play receiver, for the most part. His four touchdowns have covered 57, 16, 41 and 82 yards (last week's score). He has 20 receptions for 369 yards and four touchdowns, which leads the team. Also, his 18.5 yards-per-catch average is tops on the team (and tied for second in the NFL among receivers with at least 20 catches).

Furthermore, Jennings is tied for fourth in the NFL with three receptions of 40 yards or more. Teams have been doubling Donald Driver this season, thinking it would hurt the passing game, but it hasn't. Jennings has made the biggest impact on the passing game with his ability to make big plays, and it's just not this year. Last year at Detroit, Jennings ran a slant pattern and sprinted 75 yards for a touchdown, giving Favre his 400th scoring pass of his career.

Jennings has never been referred to as a burner or quick. But he has something Sterling Sharpe had during his playing days – "game speed." Jennings isn't the fastest Packer, but if Favre hits him in stride he's as hard to catch from behind as the "Roadrunner."

Entering this season, Jennings was truly undervalued by everybody outside the Packers' organization. Many couldn't see how the passing game had any life after Driver. They all forgot what Jennings is capable of doing when his "wheels" are in shape. He's a play-maker, who will take advantage of situations when defenses are more concerned with other parts of the field.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.


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