- Packers WR Jordy Nelson has surpassed 1,300 yards already this season and is nearing 6,000 in his career
- Nelson and Green Bay's passing attack had an uncharacteristically unproductive day last Sunday in Buffalo
- The Packers have a lot to play for over the next two weeks and want to get their passing game back on track quickly
You know you're having a good season when you drop one pass and it's the talk of the NFL. You know it when the play is made into a widely-viewed Vine. And you know it when it gets its own quotation marks in the follow-up stories. "The drop," it's called.
Jordy Nelson dropped a perfect pass from Aaron Rodgers in the Green Bay Packers' 21-13 loss at Buffalo last Sunday, on a play that looked like it was going to be a 94-yard touchdown. According to Pro Football Focus, Nelson has dropped all of eight balls the entire season, the same number as Anquan Boldin, Julio Jones and fellow Packer Randall Cobb, to name a few. Drops are going to happen, especially when you are part of a high-powered passing attack and you are targeted roughly 10 times a game.
"You have a great player in Jordy Nelson," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach, who developed a great appreciation for the Packer pass-catcher during his years as the Chicago Bears' head coach. "People are recognizing and noticing him now, but [he has] good size, runs great routes, good hands. I know he dropped one. He's probably still trying to figure out how he dropped one last week."
In fact, that was exactly the reaction of the good-natured Nelson as he discussed the play two days later. He smiled as he called the play "baffling," insisting that he looked it all the way in, as he has done on the 83 catches that have netted his team 1,320 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
What is perhaps more baffling is that Rodgers, Nelson and the Packers' attack generated only 175 passing yards, no scores through the air and only 13 total points (though an underrated Buffalo defense makes it a little less perplexing). Even after that game, the Packers are averaging 266.1 passing yards and 31.1 points per game in 2014, and the team is still very much in contention for the top overall seed in the NFC playoffs.
Get to know the key players on Green Bay before the Buccaneers take on the Packers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Nelson's drop was a fluke that likely won't be repeated, but he says the Packer offense has to make a concerted effort to make sure last week's offensive downturn will be a one-week aberration.
"We just weren't in rhythm and we didn't execute at a very high-level and missed some big opportunities to make plays for whatever reason," he said. "We had good work [Wednesday] and we've got another couple of days before we head down to Tampa. We just have to get back in rhythm and get back to the way we were playing a couple of weeks ago and execute. We hold ourselves to a very high standard and last week obviously wasn't close to it."
Obviously, the calendar makes that need for a quick rebound more critical. Football Outsiders has the Packers' playoff chances at 92.8%, and Green Bay will win the NFC North if it takes its last two games against the Bucs and the Detroit Lions. However, the Lions won't be an easy win by any means, even at Lambeau Field (Detroit beat the Packers at Ford Field in September), and the Packers range of possible outcomes still realistically includes the #1 overall NFC seed and no playoff berth at all.
For that reason, the Packers aren't viewing the 2-12 Buccaneers as an easy win, either, and they're committed to regaining that offensive rhythm right away.
Packers WR Jordy Nelson has scored 12 touchdowns in Green Bay's high-powered offense
"This is a game we have to win," said Head Coach Mike McCarthy. "It's a road game and you have to stay true to the video. Lovie Smith has his team playing with a lot of energy and he's had a lot of change with his personnel, injuries and things like that. We're looking for this to be a tough game and we're taking a playoff approach because this is the time of year where you have to shift gears and make sure the awareness and urgency is heightened in your preparation and trusting the process leading up to the performance."
The Packers' recent history includes a 2010 season in which it came into the playoffs as the sixth seed and ended up as the Super Bowl champs, as well as a 15-1 campaign in 2011 that was followed by a one-and-done playoff experience. In other words, Nelson and his teammates know the value of peaking at the right time, and they could do that if they rebound strongly from last week's performance.
"I think we'll be pretty focused after last week," said Nelson. "We know that going on the road is very hard no matter how many wins a team has. Tampa has a very explosive offense with some of the guys that they can throw out there and a defense that can play just as well. We have to make sure that we are focused, we take care of work this week before we head down there and make sure that we go out and execute. No matter who it is, you want to start playing your best football this late in the year and we need to start getting into that rhythm and through these last two games hopefully into the playoffs."
It is easy and obvious for us to write off Nelson's high-profile dropped pass last week because his entire body of work is so superb. One might expect it to be a little harder for a player himself to move on from a moment like that, but Nelson obviously isn't having much trouble with it. After more than 100 NFL games played and career numbers on the cusp of 400 catches, 6,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, he really don't have anything left to prove.
"I think if you're worried about what everyone else thinks about you, then you're going to waste your time, because no matter how good you are, someone is always going to be able to criticize you or critique you and not make you happy," said Nelson. "I'm just worried about being the best that I can be, make sure that I am on the same page with Aaron and doing what this team asks me to do week-in and week-out, year-in and year-out. I think if I worry about that then I will be successful and our team will be successful."