Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin stretches for a touchdown against the Browns. (Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
By ALEX PETAKAS
GREEN BAY – The longest of Jarrett Boykin's eight receptions, a 39-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter of the Green Bay Packers 31-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns, was the one that least thrilled him.
That’s because safety T.J. Ward tackled Boykin at the one-yard line, leaving him just three feet shy of adding a touchdown to what was already a standout performance.
“The first time it was very frustrating because the whole time I was like ‘I got to get in this end zone,' ” Boykin said.
Luckily for Boykin, he would have another chance at scoring a touchdown when Aaron Rodgers threw him a 20-yard pass with 3 minutes 52 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“The second time around when he came to me, I got to the 1 (-yard line), I just had to stretch it. I couldn’t be denied at that point,” Boykin said.
With a lone Browns defender standing between him and his first career touchdown, Boykin lowered his shoulder to brace for impact, barreled through cornerback Buster Skrine and reached the ball over the plane to give the Packers a 30-13 lead.
“I just smelled the end zone,” Boykin said. “I don’t know what happened. I just saw red.”
The touchdown capped an eight catch, 103-yard performance for Boykin, who led the team in both receptions and receiving yards. With wide receivers James Jones (knee) and Randall Cobb (leg) sidelined, Boykin started opposite of Jordy Nelson, who battled Cleveland’s top cornerback, Joe Haden, for the majority of the game.
“Joe Haden is one of the top corners in the league, if not the top guy and he was on Jordy all night,” Rodgers said. “So I wanted to make sure Jarrett got some opportunities when he got going early.”
Boykin made the most of his favorable matchup with a breakout performance, which drew praise from both his quarterback and his head coach, though neither was surprised.
"I think that's obviously nothing new to us as coaches and Jarrett's teammates," said Mike McCarthy, whose team improved to 4-2 and took over first place in the NFC North. "When you have a chance to watch a young man work as he does, he puts a lot into it. If he ever had anything that held him back, he was probably trying too hard.
“The guy is a very passionate, tough, gifted young man. Just in the fact that Aaron has the trust in him, particularly the two touchdown throws were route conversions. You don't just do that with someone that's out there in his first or second big game.”
Boykin earned Rodgers' trust by displaying a solid work ethic in practice.
“I was impressed with him, I wasn’t surprised,” Rodgers added. “I’ve seen him make a lot of plays in practice. I think he’s a confidence guy. He just needs some opportunities early, which we gave him.”
In the first quarter, Boykin was targeted five times, catching four passes for 26 yards.
He admitted that those early opportunities helped him on his way to his best statistical performance of his young career. “I think once you get into that rhythm, get into that groove, from there it’s just smooth sailing," he said. “I feel like my confidence is growing. Once you get in that groove you just feel invincible and just whenever I saw the ball coming my way I just try to do whatever I can to take advantage of that situation.”
Undrafted out of Virginia Tech, Boykin was released by Jacksonville before making the Packers' roster in training camp last year. Though his rapid rise to prominence qualifies as a pleasant surprise for the Packers and their fans, Boykin is not completely satisfied with his play.
“I’m hard on myself. I still have a couple of run blocking things. A couple of things I wish I could have had back. I’m never perfect,” he said. “I’m not content. I don’t get complacent. Today is just one day and I want to build upon that and have better days.”
Though he may feel he could have done better, the impression Boykin made left many, including Rodgers, excited about the idea of him getting more opportunities to shine.
“I’m really proud of him,” Rodgers said. “Seems like he’s got a bright future for us.”
Alex Petakas is the host of “The Ticket” on 540 ESPN and covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/AlexPetakas.