Acme Packing Company’s writers have watched the film on the Green Bay Packers’ 2020 season and compiled our lists of the best plays from last year. Each writer voted on their favorite plays, combining qualities that include a play’s impact on a game or the season, outstanding individual or team effort, and amusement or hilarity factor.
Ten APC contributors submitted votes for the 15 best plays of the season, which we have combined and whittled down to the top ten plays of 2020. Please enjoy our countdown over the next two weeks!
At play number 6 on the countdown, we find a critical catch in a critical moment that helped give the Packers a chance to force overtime on the road.
Five plays into the Packers’ top 10 plays of 2020, we reintroduce you to a familiar face: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has already made an appearance with the ninth- and tenth-ranked plays on our list. MVS is a frustrating player for fans who don’t like witnessing his growing pains on a contending team, but it’s hard to make the argument that he hasn’t come up in big moments, too. In the end, this play may be the best example of what the upside a player with top-five-percent length and long speed can bring to a team that desperately needs a speedy receiver to match with the bruising styles of Davante Adams and Allen Lazard.
We’ll set the scene. It’s Week 11 in Indianapolis as the Packers and Colts are about to kickoff for a high-leverage football game. The week before, Jacksonville, the team poor enough to earn the right to select Trevor Lawrence, gave Green Bay a scare. At this point in the season, Green Bay was the top seed in the NFC due to a head-to-head tie-breaker over the 7-2 New Orleans Saints, but also had the Cardinals, Buccaneers, Rams and Seahawks breathing down their neck in the NFC playoff race at 6-3.
Meanwhile in the AFC, the Colts were currently the fourth seed in the conference, with the Chiefs and Steelers pulling away from the pack. Any reasonable Colts fan wasn’t necessarily rooting for the one-seed bye, like Packers fans were, but to hold their place in the AFC to potentially host a home playoff game. The reason for stress on the Colts’ end? The 7-3 Bills ahead of them and the 6-3 Raiders, Dolphins, Ravens and Browns behind them.
Between this game and the following Thursday Night Football matchup between the Saints and Bills, these cross-conference games were going to cause a musical chairs effect for playoff seeding in both conferences, no matter the outcome.
The Packers’ previous drive: Green Bay took over the football after the Colts earned their first lead of the game midway through the fourth quarter. The Packers had recorded six offensive snaps in the entire second half after controlling the early game. While quarterback Aaron Rodgers drove down the field throwing the ball, a seven-yard comeback pass to tight end Robert Tonyan on 3rd and 8 led to the team going for it on 4th and 1. Unfortunately, pressure led to an overthrown play action pass over the head of running back Jamaal Williams, as the team turned it over on downs.
The Colts’ previous drive: Running and penalties. Indianapolis was attempting to kill the clock, but their offensive line was not cooperating. In all, the drive included six plays with penalties, one with multiple, with the Packers declining two of them as time was more important than field position at this stage in the game. Running back Nyheim Hines converted a 4th and 4 after a screen on 3rd and 19, but cornerback Jaire Alexander later made up for the slant given up on a “pick play” with a pass breakup later in the drive. After a review determined that a Za’Darius Smith hit on Philip Rivers led to an incompletion and not a sack-fumble-touchdown, the Colts punted the ball back to Green Bay, with it being downed on the Packers’ six-yard-line.
Active drive: On the first play of the possession, Lazard dropped a slant that was thrown into tight coverage, but had correct leverage. The following play a pressured pocket lead to an overthrow. Now we have arrived at our scene: 3rd and 10 from the Packers’ six-yard-line, down three points with 1:17 left on the clock and a timeout.
What catch by Marquez Valdez-Scantling— IKE Packers Podcast (@IKE_Packers) November 23, 2020
The Packers lined up in an empty formation with trips to the field and Williams split out wide to the boundary. At this point, the Colts should have had an inkling that the ball wasn’t going to the right sideline when Green Bay’s primary pass-catchers were all lined up inside the numbers to the right. Defensively, Indianapolis showed a pretty common Cover 4/Quarters Coverage look pre-snap, attempting to dissuade the offense from deep shots. There was basically no one in the box outside of the four line of scrimmage pass-rushers, which should have alerted everyone that they were going to pin their ears back and try to tee off on the quarterback.
The pressure didn’t get home, but it was felt. Rodgers couldn’t make the cleanest of passes, but he was able to put the ball in between the deep middle zones of safeties Julian Blackmon and Khari Willis and over the head of middle hole linebacker Bobby Okereke, as Valdes-Scantling used every bit of his speed and length to track and secure the nearly 50-yard gain.
This is possibly the best play in MVS’ NFL career. The list of receivers who can burn the cushion of safeties who line up 15-17 yards off of the ball and are backpedaling in Cover 4, all while the receiver is tracking and securing a non-perfect ball, is not long.
Following the completion, the Packers used the last timeout that they had in their pocket. With three seconds left, Mason Crosby was able to kick a field goal that tied the game and sent the team into overtime. Earlier in the drive, the Packers had a 93.3% chance of losing the game, according to ESPN, but were then odds-on favorites to win in overtime as they started with the ball.
The Packers lost in overtime. It didn’t end up mattering for playoff seeding. More than the moment having an overall impact on Green Bay’s 2020 season, though, it gave us another example of the value of Valdes-Scantling’s ability and upside, something to look forward to going into the 2021 season and beyond.