At a Green Bay practice back in June, Aaron Rodgers was asked about the team’s no. 1 receiver, Davante Adams. Rodgers threw 169 pass attempts to Adams in 2018, one shy of the most for any pass-catcher, but Rodgers didn’t think that was enough.
”I’d like to throw to Davante more,” Rodgers told reporters. “He’s that open. … We’ve got to keep finding ways to get him the ball. There’s nothing wrong with having a go-to guy who’s that dynamic and trying to find ways to get him the ball.”
With Green Bay’s season on the line against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Adams was the only person Rodgers trusted. Adams finished with eight catches on 11 targets for 160 yards and two touchdowns. The rest of Green Bay’s team combined for eight catches on 11 targets for 83 yards and no receiving touchdowns. Adams’s 160 receiving yards were a franchise playoff record. All six of his catches that were not touchdowns went for first downs. Rodgers targeted Adams four times on throws that traveled more than 10 yards, and Adams caught all four for 107 yards and two scores, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Adams and running back Aaron Jones accounted for all four of Green Bay’s touchdowns, though Jones had just 66 total yards on 21 touches (3.0 yards per touch). In Rodgers’s postseason interview after the game—before he started talking about drinking scotch—Rodgers mentioned how clutch Adams was throughout the game.
“He carried us on offense,” Rodgers told Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews. “His route-running ability is incredible.”
Adams’s route-running begins with his release, and that was visible on the last of Adams’s six first-down catches. With Green Bay up 28-23 and facing a third-and-8 with 2:19 left, the Packers needed a first down or they’d give the ball back to the Seahawks, who had two timeouts and the two-minute warning to score the game-winning touchdown. Instead Rogers found Adams, who lined up in the slot and used one of his signature jump-breaks to the outside, a move he has been honing for years.
Perfect throw from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams... The Packers isolated Adams on rookie Ugo Amadi on a fade route out of the slot. pic.twitter.com/7ztxA3dp0P— Samuel Gold (@SamuelRGold) January 13, 2020
The 32-yard gain allowed Packers tight end (and former Seahawks tight end) Jimmy Graham to ice the game with a first down three plays later. Graham, who finished with three catches for 49 yards, was the only other Packer to have more than one catch.
“Tonight reminds me of the connection that Jordy [Nelson] and I had for so many years where there was some unspoken things that we could do without even communicating anything about it “ Rodgers said in his postgame press conference. “Davante made three or four plays like that tonight, so that was pretty fun.”
The prettiest play of their game came on Adams’s 40-yard touchdown catch. Up 21-10 midway through the third quarter, Green Bay had the ball on second-and-6 just to the left of their logo at midfield. The Packers had three tight ends, one running back, and Adams on the field as the only receiver, a heavy formation suggesting they were going to run. Rodgers took the snap, turned left, faked the handoff to running back Aaron Jones, and bootlegged right. He found Adams along the left sideline for the long touchdown.
.@Tae15Adams just gets open.— NFL (@NFL) January 13, 2020
40-yard TD on the throw from @AaronRodgers12! #GoPackGo #NFLPlayoffs
: #SEAvsGB on FOX
: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/8lgzlFahDc pic.twitter.com/0xS53XExYf
Adams, starting from the left side of the line of scrimmage, goes upfield and then cuts across to the right side. At first it looks like a classic play-action pass that anyone who plays Madden would recognize, with Adams cutting deep across the middle of the field. Except that isn’t what the Packers did. Just as Seattle’s defenders thought they recognized the play, Adams cut back to the left, where Rodgers hit Adams in mid-air over the 20 on the left side of Seahawks territory. Adams landed, stopped, and then outran the overpursuing Seahawks defenders to the other side of the field. He ran in the touchdown on the other side of the hash marks from where he caught it. His zig-zag (serpentine!) play is clearest on the NFL Next Gen Stat tracking play using the tracking chips embedded in players’ shoulder pads.
Davante Adams has been Aaron Rodgers' go-to receiver tonight, accounting for 68% of the @packers team air yards and this 40-yard TD.@tae15adams has had little trouble getting open—Adams has had 3+ yards of separation on 7 of 8 targets (season-high 88%).#SEAvsGB | #GoPackGo pic.twitter.com/JgeMAXTebj— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 13, 2020
Packers head coach and offensive player-caller Matt LaFleur got creative with not only Adams’s routes downfield, but also with what was happening behind the line of scrimmage. On the first play of the second quarter, Rodgers motioned receiver Jake Kumerow, who began sprinting from right of the line to the left. At the snap the Packers’ entire offense faked a run to the left except for Adams, who sprinted from the left to the right. Rodgers bootlegged and tossed the ball to Adams, who caught the ball just behind the line of scrimmage but was already running at full speed, and Adams ran for an 18-yard gain.
here's how Matt LaFleur keeps getting Davante Adams open. tricky pre-snap motion and play-action freezes SEA safety McDougald just long enough for Adams, running away from CB Tre Flowers, to create space for an easy 15-yard gain pic.twitter.com/B3RvFQqVyD— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) January 13, 2020
Adams is perhaps the most underrated receiver in the league. He is rarely discussed alongside Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, or Odell Beckham Jr. as the league’s best or most talented, but he is on their level. Adams missed October with a turf toe injury, so Rodgers was not able to target him 170-plus times like he’d hoped. But after Adams returned, he retook his place as one of the NFL’s elite. He tied his own franchise record for catches in a game (13) when the Packers beat the Vikings to clinch the NFC North on Monday Night Football in Week 16. He has 100-plus receiving yards, a touchdown, or both in seven of his last eight games. He had 578 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns in his final seven games of the regular season, sixth most and tied for second most in the league respectively in that span. Now Adams is breaking Packers records in the freezing cold at Lambeau, peaking at the perfect time.
“This is where it gets really fun,” Rodgers said after the game. “There’s only four teams left. We’re one of them, and we’ve got a legitimate chance.”
The last time the Packers played the 49ers, a 37-8 San Francisco victory in November, Adams caught just seven of 12 targets for 43 yards and a score. Expect Rodgers and LaFleur to find more ways to get Adams the ball.
“Obviously,” said Rodgers, “we’re gonna need another big week out of him next week.”