For much of the 2012 offseason, James Jones was the forgotten man.
Greg Jennings was the two-time Pro Bowler. Jordy Nelson had just posted a career-best 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011. Randall Cobb was the exciting second-year player ready to assume a larger role in the offense. Jermichael Finley was the absurdly talented tight end, Donald Driver the steady veteran.
On a crisp Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, Jones reminded Packer Nation of his presence with an outstanding, two-touchdown game that included the game-sealing catch on third down and 3. Despite tight coverage by a Saints cornerback who had Jones blanketed, Aaron Rodgers had such trust in his supposed No. 3 wideout that he threw the ball anyway. Jones reached one hand around his defender’s hip and curled the ball up into his elbow. First down. Game over.
Jones was money earlier in the game as well, catching two Rodgers touchdowns. On the first, he ran a short stop route in the middle of the field, but worked back to the left side of the end zone as Rodgers scrambled left and was open for the score. On the second, he beat a cornerback in press coverage caught the ball in perfect stride and strode through his man's tackle attempt. Touchdown. Packers extend their lead.
Nelson broke out of his funk Sunday with eight catches for 93 yards, including what turned out to be the game-winning score, a quick slant where he survived a blow-‘em-up hit from a New Orleans safety and bulled into the end zone anyway. You could make a case, however, that Jones has been the team’s best receiver over the season’s first quarter. He was the only one who got anything done against Seattle’s towering cornerbacks. He worked his way free on the scramble drill for a 49-yard catch-and-run against San Francisco, by far the Packers’ longest play of the season to date. With Jennings either sidelined by injury or ineffective on the field, Jones has stepped up in a huge way.
Let’s give plaudits to Randall Cobb as well, because they’re definitely earned. Cobb has been a warrior within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, catching quick slants and racking up yards after the catch, as well as devastating hits. He’s also caught and run the ball out of the backfield as a chance-of-pace back. In this blogger’s opinion, Cobb has so far lived up to the cloud of hype that surrounded him this offseason. But Jones’ big plays, his performance against top defenses and his obvious rapport with Rodgers in every game except Chicago (two catches, -1 yards) mark him out as the team’s best wideout right now.
For most of his 5 1/2 seasons in Green Bay, Jones has been just another solid option on a team with a star-studded passing game. With Jennings, Driver, Finley and Nelson all leapfrogging ahead of him at times, Jones hasn’t had nearly the opportunities afforded other receivers of his talent level. With Jennings surprisingly unable to do much on the field this year, it may be Jones’s turn to dazzle Packer Nation. The returns from the season’s first quarter, one busted route/interception aside, are very promising.