The Green Bay Packers have had some solid tight ends over the last decade, and at the very least have fielded big names. From Jermichael Finley in the early part of the decade to Jared Cook and Jimmy Graham later on, Aaron Rodgers has often thrown to big-time weapons — or at least players who were big-time weapons at some point in their careers.
However, the best game by a Packers tight end since the Super Bowl year in 2010, at least according to single-game DYAR, features none of those players. Instead, it belongs to 2014 third-round draft pick Richard Rodgers, who had an incredible game fairly late in the 2015 season.
Yes, it’s that game and that play.
In 2015, Rodgers had his best year as a pro in terms of counting stats while serving as the team’s starting tight end. He caught 58 of 85 targets for 510 yards and eight touchdowns, setting career highs in all of those categories. He also had a career-high catch rate, though he did post the lowest yards per reception of his Packers career. That last bit is surprising, however, when considering what he did on a Thursday night in early December.
The Packers headed into Ford Field at 7-4, facing a 4-7 Lions team that was on a rebound. Rodgers was the Packers’ top offensive producer in this game, however; the Packers totaled 313 yards of total offense on the day, and Rodgers accounted for 146 of those on eight receptions. Let’s take a quick look at each of them.
Rodgers’ first target came late in the first quarter on a second-and-21 after Aaron Rodgers was called for intentional grounding. The younger Rodgers drew a 40-yard defensive pass interference penalty on the play, giving the Packers a new set of downs at midfield. Richard would then catch two passes later on the drive, first a 15-yard gain on second-and-11 and then a 19-yard pickup on second-and-10.
The next pass thrown Rodgers’ way was on a third-and-10 midway through the third quarter, with the Packers down 20-0. A short pass to the right turned into a huge 26-yard gain, sparking the Packers to their first points of the day. The next drive, which followed a sack-strip by Julius Peppers inside the Lions’ 20-yard line, saw him catch two short passes for one and three yards before a quick touchdown strike from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams.
In the fourth quarter with the Packers trailing 23-14, Rodgers picked up a pair of first downs on back-to-back plays. Starting just shy of midfield, he gained 26 on a first-and-15 before gaining another 11 yards on the next play to move the chains again and set up an Aaron Rodgers rushing TD that would put the Packers within two points.
Of course, the Rodgerses would combine for the play of the year to end that game. Aaron’s Hail Mary attempt, which nearly hit the Ford Field roof, fell into Richard’s waiting arms for a 61-yard touchdown and the win on an untimed down to end the game. That score was named the play of the year at the ESPYs the following summer.
All told, Richard Rodgers’ contributions gave him the 14th-best game by Football Outsiders’ DYAR of any tight end in the past decade, with a total of 69 (nice). That credits him for the pass interference yardage as well as his receiving yardage, and was the only appearance by a Packers tight end on the list.
So while it’s fun to remember the miracle that ended the game, it’s worth keeping in mind that Richard Rodgers was largely responsible for keeping the Packers close enough to even have that opportunity.