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The Packers Offense Finally Looks Dangerous Again—and Not a Moment Too Soon

After a rough final month of the regular season, Green Bay’s passing attack found its footing against Seattle. Now Davante Adams and Co. will get to try to do it again in the NFC championship game.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Packers saw this one coming. As Davante Adams went through the week, images of his last game against Seattle danced through his head, and he let his fellow Green Bay receivers know what he had in store for Sunday. “I think he’s psychic,” Geronimo Allison said after the game. “But sometimes he has visions, and sometimes those visions come to sight. I guarantee you that a lot of the stuff that took place today, he kind of envisioned.”

When the Packers last played Seattle, on the road in November 2018, Adams finished with 10 catches for 166 yards in a 27-24 Green Bay loss. Adams knew that if he’d been thinking about that game all week, the Seahawks secondary must have been too. “Anytime I have a big game against a team the previous time I played them, it’s just a natural reaction,” Adams said in the locker room. “If someone had a big game against me, I’d be thinking about them a little bit more. I knew they’d have a plan.”

Whatever that plan was, it fell apart fast. Adams finished with eight catches, two touchdowns, and a Packers-playoff-record 160 yards receiving in Green Bay’s 28-23 win on Sunday. He was the focal point of a passing game that finally showed signs of life after a tough stretch to close out the regular season. Over the Packers’ final four games, Aaron Rodgers averaged just 6.0 yards per attempt and completed only 55.8 percent of his passes. Aside from the Aaron Jones–led running game, Green Bay’s offense looked out of sync and out of sorts. That changed on Sunday. From design to timing to execution, this looked like a different unit than the one that sputtered throughout December. “I felt really locked in from Wednesday on,” Rodgers said after the game. “Practiced well. Felt really good all day today. Just felt like it was going to be one of those types of performances tonight.”

From the Packers’ opening drive, it was clear that head coach Matt LaFleur and his staff had put the team’s bye-week preparation time to good use. Facing a third-and-7 from the Seattle 20-yard line, the Packers lined up with Adams and Allison on the left side of the formation. In that alignment and situation, Green Bay often likes to use a rub route against man coverage to get Adams free. But this time, Adams and Allison faked the rub. Instead of crossing paths with Allison, Adams broke back to the outside. Amid the confusion, cornerback Tre Flowers lost Adams, and Rodgers had a wide-open throw for the touchdown. “It just messes with their communication,” Adams said of the play design. “They’re not able to talk and figure out where people are. Great call by Matt. We finally got man coverage, and it was literally the perfect time.”

Allison said that the design was a new wrinkle that LaFleur had introduced to the team this week. But when I asked Rodgers about it after the game, he gave a different origin story. “I came up with that play,” Rodgers said. “I suggested it on Monday. I’m glad he called it. That’s kinda what that point was for. He was pointing at me, I was pointing back at him.”

Every offense develops tendencies over 16 games, from favorite calls out of specific formations to the types of plays they’ll dial up while facing a certain down and distance. With a season’s worth of film in the can, defenses can pare down the possible menu of plays in their minds. The best coaches toy with those expectations, though, implementing tendency-breakers that look like a staple of the offense until the very last second. The concept on Adams’s second touchdown wasn’t a new addition to the playbook, but like the play that led to his first score, it was deliberately put in to mimic one of Green Bay’s favorite designs. “We just tried to mess with them based on things we’d done in the past,” Adams says. “Luckily, they took the cheese on it.”

With 7:21 left in the third quarter, the Packers faced a second-and-6 from the Seahawks’ 40-yard line. Green Bay lined up with three tight ends and faked a handoff at the snap. Every aspect of the play made it seem like Adams would be running across the field from left to right, on the deep over route that’s become a pillar of the Kyle Shanahan-Sean McVay-LaFleur offense. Instead, Adams snapped back outside and left Flowers in the dust. “The route was filthy,” Allison says. “I was on the sideline, and from the jump, when he stuck the first part of the route, I knew he had him. He kind of put the cornerback in a panic moment.”

Like he did several times on Sunday, LaFleur had dialed up the perfect call in the perfect moment. Based on the numbers in the secondary, Adams said he knew Seattle was in man coverage, and that it was on him to finish things off. In the locker room after the game, I asked Adams when he knew he had Flowers beat on that play. “When he dives in,” Adams said. “Because then I know it’s, ‘Who can get out of it better?’ And I know I’m running that route. He doesn’t know I’m running it. I work on that route, and I should be able to beat him.”

Green Bay was able to consistently create big plays within the rhythm of its offense on Sunday—something that had been missing the past month—but this game was also a showcase for the improvisational genius of an all-time-great quarterback. Rodgers was brilliant all night, but especially on third down, where he finished 9-of-14. One of his best throws came two plays before Adams’s second score, with the Packers facing a third-and-6 from their own 29. Seattle had opened the second half with a long touchdown drive, which cut the lead to 21-10, and Green Bay was staring at a potentially dangerous three-and-out. Rather than going back to the Adams well, Rodgers found tight end Jimmy Graham running up the right side. Graham had started across the field, but based on the structure of Seattle’s coverage, he took his route vertical. Rodgers quickly recognized the adjustment and fit in a perfect 27-yard throw over linebacker K.J. Wright.

Graham’s final catch of the night—which sealed the game and stirred up controversy about whether he actually got the first down—will likely be religitated this week, but there’s no denying that each time Green Bay needed a play in a key moment, Rodgers delivered. Earlier on that drive, with Green Bay clinging to a five-point lead, the Packers faced a third-and-8 deep in their own territory. Like he had so many times already on Sunday, Rodgers looked for Adams—and found him with the throw of the night. The pass required a bit of last-second recognition and adjustment by Rodgers, as Seattle’s coverage caused Adams to release outside instead of over the middle like the call intended. “As I kinda tried to keep my eyes down the middle, I peeked out there and could tell he’d gotten off so good, he didn’t do anything inside,” Rodgers said. “I just wanted to make sure I got over there as quick as I could.” Adams was asked after the game if there was an easier way to gain 8 yards than a 32-yard fade. “Yeah,” Adams said, “but that way’s cooler.”

The Packers offense scored more style points on Sunday than it’s tallied in a while. As Rodgers noted after the game, much has been made “about the aesthetics of our wins.” Green Bay has often won ugly this season, a rarity for most of Rodgers’s tenure. Rodgers may not be the efficiency monster this season that he’s been for most of his career, but with Green Bay’s terrifying front four stifling opposing offenses and a solid running game to lean on, the Packers may not need their future Hall of Fame quarterback to carry them. Combined with Green Bay’s other strengths, a few daggers and a whole lot of Davante Adams may be all this team needs to stun the 49ers and head to the second Super Bowl of Rodgers’s brilliant career. He delivered those daggers on Sunday, and showed that Green Bay’s passing can still erupt when it needs to. “He didn’t come in meditating every day [this week],” Adams said. “He’s Aaron. At any point, he can blow up and have a game like that.”