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NFL: OCT 27 Packers at Chiefs

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Packers’ Top Plays of 2019: #1 - Aaron Rodgers’ miracle TD pass to Jamaal Williams

There are few if any good photos of this play, which looked like an ordinary third-down throwaway but became so much more. Here’s our pick for the best play of the Packers’ 2019 season.

Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers won 14 games in 2019, compiling a 13-3 regular season record and a home victory in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Many tremendous individual plays contributed to that success, and with the summer upon us we at Acme Packing Company have ranked our favorites from the entire season.

Compared to 2018, when the Packers finished 6-9-1, 2019 was much more fun and had far more memorable plays to look back on. This year’s countdown was one of the toughest to decide in recent memory, with the top two plays separated by a single point. 11 APC contributors pitched in, each ranking our 15 favorite plays in order. After compiling the rankings, we finalized our top ten and will present them in reverse order over the next several days.

Finally, we have reached number one on our countdown. This exercise was certainly more fun for us at APC this year than in the past few seasons when the Packers struggled, and the top two plays came down to a difference of just one vote. The winner, however, is a play in the fourth quarter of a tie game in prime time, one that shows off both Aaron Rodgers’ incredible arm and his flair for the dramatic.

The Game

Heading into week eight, the Green Bay Packers were in a great spot. They held a 6-1 record on the young season, far exceeding expectations. The team had even ripped off three straight victories without wide receiver Davante Adams, with Aaron Jones totaling over 320 total yards in those contests.

Their opponents on Sunday Night Football were the Kansas City Chiefs, the class of the AFC West. This promised to be a tremendous matchup, particularly at the quarterback position as Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes were set to face off in a rare inter-conference game. However, NBC’s hopes for a ratings smash and the intrigue for fans of other teams were lessened ten days earlier, when Mahomes suffered a knee injury in Denver on Thursday Night Football. Enter instead Matt Moore, the 11-year veteran who was out of football in 2018 but signed late in training camp to back up Mahomes.

For the Packers, this game was a chance to prove that they belonged in the conversation as one of the better teams in the NFL, even without Mahomes on the field. The Chiefs, meanwhile, were hoping to hold serve at home with a backup quarterback and improve to 6-2 on the season.

The Situation

After a stellar start to the game, the Packers led 14-0 after 15 minutes, with touchdowns by Jones (on a short pass from Rodgers) and Jamaal Williams’ goal-line run. The Chiefs roared back in the second quarter, however, as the Packers gave up big plays to Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman for long scores of 29 and 30 yards. The Chiefs pulled ahead just before halftime with a field goal before the Packers tied it up on a Mason Crosby boot near the end of the third quarter.

On the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, the Packers got a tremendous individual effort from try-hard defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster. On a snap that we may have overlooked a bit on this countdown. Lancaster stripped the football from running back LeSean McCoy, falling on it and giving the Packets tremendous field position at the Chiefs’ 27-yard line in a tie game.

Aaron Rodgers’ legs featured prominently on the ensuing series. The first play was a failed flea-flicker, which resulted in #12 scrambling out of the pocket and bring brought down by Khalen Saunders at the line of scrimmage for a sack. On second-and-10, the Chiefs brought seven men on a blitz, but Rodgers quickly escaped for a 15-yard gain to end the third quarter. He then missed Geronimo Allison in the end zone on first down — nearly getting picked off by Tyrann Mathieu — before pump-faking twice and picking up another nine yards with his legs to set up a third-and-one from the three-yard line.

That’s when the magic happened.

The Play

Looking back on this play, the Packers line up in a fascinating alignment for a third and short. Matt LaFleur put 32 personnel on the field in the huddle — three running backs, two tight ends, and no wide receivers, presumably trying to lure heavy personnel onto the field for the Chiefs’ defense — then break and line up on the right hash in an empty backfield with Rodgers in the shotgun. Split tight to the left are Aaron Jones wide and set back off the line, Marcedes Lewis in the middle on the line of scrimmage, and Danny Vitale tight on the wing, with Jimmy Graham in the right slot and Jamaal Williams wide to the right sideline.

At the snap, the Packers run a fun route combination on the left side. Lewis carries up the field, while Jones runs a stab route (cutting inside and then stopping) just past the goal line and Vitale releases into the flat. About a second or so after the snap, Jones is all alone in the middle of the field, as Lewis initially drew all three pass defenders on that side of the field and the linebacker in zone coverage, Ben Niemann, has worked to the right side of the field. The Chiefs have lost Jones entirely, and they have also allowed Vitale to leak out into the flat at the goal line with four yards of separation. However, Rodgers’ first read was to the right side and he doesn’t work back to the middle to see Jones standing wide open or Vitale able to at the very least pick up a first down:

Jones even stands there wide open in the end zone for at least a full second. Unfortunately, by the time that Rodgers scans back, the deep safety (in the crossbar of the “H” in the above image) is starting to crash in on Jones and the corner has turned his hips and is back on Vitale in the flat.

Now let’s look at the right side of the formation. Graham runs an out route while Williams comes inside on a slant. This is presumably intended to be a rub on the defender covering Jamaal, as Rodgers’ first read is to Williams, but with the Chiefs in zone coverage, the defenders alertly switch players and prevent the pick from working. Still, after being pressed a bit, Williams is able to shake the inside defender, who falls down, leaving all three running backs open for a split-second each. But by the time Rodgers could see that Williams too has made his way open, the quarterback has broken from the pocket due to pass rush off both edges and up the middle. At this point, Rodgers has two rushers bearing down on him and nowhere to go. This should absolutely end as a sack or a throwaway when looking at this still frame:

Indeed, Rodgers retreats a bit farther and, with the two Chiefs in his face, releases a fadeaway sidearm throw towards the back of the end zone, in what every viewer surely thought was an attempt to simply get rid of the football.

I distinctly remember looking away from the television when I saw Rodgers release this ball, confident that he was simply throwing it out the back of the end zone. But instead of the football falling harmlessly to the turf to set up another Crosby field goal, Jamaal Williams is somehow waiting for it in the back corner of the end zone, and he makes a tremendous diving catch, securing the football for a Packers touchdown.

Check out this play in its entirety here:

Rodgers explained that this wasn’t simply a lucky break, either. After the game, he told reporters his thought process during the play: “As I rolled to the right there, I saw Jimmy (Graham) and I saw somebody wrapping behind him. I was actually throwing a ball that I thought Jimmy could go up and get if he wanted to, and if he didn’t, the guy behind him might be able to get it.”

The Impact

The touchdown and its ensuing point-after gave the Packers a seven point lead, and turned a 17-14 Chiefs advantage into a 24-17 Packers lead in the span of less than three minutes. It ensured that the Packers would do no worse than a tie after the Chiefs’ next possession — and tie it they did before Jones hit lightning when he took a quick screen pass 67 yards for the final go-ahead touchdown of the game (that play earned a few votes on our countdown, but didn’t quite crack the top 20).

The Packers didn’t get completely full marks for beating one of the AFC’s best teams in this game, as Mahomes’ absence provided an excuse for those doubting the Packers to keep on doing so. Still, Green Bay won this game without one of its own star playmakers, as Adams would not return until the following week. In that game, the Packers would stumble into California and lay an egg against the Chargers, but this contest demonstrated to a national audience that the Packers were real contenders and deserved to be in the discussion for a first-round bye after the midpoint of the 2019 season.

The play had a bit of a lasting impact in and of itself, as well. The throw and catch were so absurd that Amazon Web Services made this play into a commercial almost instantly:

This play is, as the voice-over guy said, SUPER TOIT.

If you have a single play that ends up getting the AWS treatment, it probably deserves to be number one on the season. But all told, this play beat out the Amos interception in #2 by just a single vote, meaning if one person had flipped the two in the rankings, that would have earned the top spot. Still, this play got more first-place votes (four out of 11) than any other, with the Amos pick getting three.


2019 Top Plays Countdown

#10: Davante Adams’ second TD helps put the Seahawks away
#9: Aaron Jones’ spinning TD catch makes up for a previous drop
#8: Aaron Jones secures NFC North title for the Packers
#7: Rodgers hits Adams for huge third-down conversion to all but clinch playoff win
#6: Packers’ goal-line stand on Christian McCaffrey with no time left
#5: Kevin King saves the day with an end zone interception
#4: Allen Lazard emerges and refuses to lose to the Lions
#3: Aaron Jones waves goodbye to the Cowboys
#2: Adrian Amos exacts revenge on the Bears

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