CHICAGO – Randall Cobb was ready to give up on playing for the Green Bay Packers again this season.
“It was a few weeks ago. I was like, ‘Man, just shut me down. If I’m not going to come back, just shut me down for the year,’” the Packers third-year receiver recalled Sunday, after catching the game-winning 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers – another guy who wondered if he’d play again in 2013 – in the final seconds of the team’s 33-28 victory over the Chicago Bears.
“It was a lot of frustration in those 10 weeks, but [the training staff] continued to push me through it and I continued to work hard and was able to make the comeback.”
And the Packers are fortunate he did.
Cobb, who suffered a small fracture at the top of the tibia in his right leg at Baltimore Oct. 13, was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return two days later. He credited Nate Weir, the trainer he worked with the most, with keeping his spirits up and helping him return to the Packers’ active roster.
And what a return it was. Although he finished with just two catches for 55 yards, both receptions were touchdown passes from Rodgers, who was also playing in his first game back after missing seven full games with a fractured left collarbone.
Cobb said he knew he was being activated “a little bit before (the news) actually came out” on Saturday, and that made his wait seem even longer on Saturday night.
“I don’t even think I slept,” Cobb said of his night at the Westin Michigan Avenue. “I was just so excited to play again, kind of like a little kid. I’m grateful for the opportunity to put the green and gold back on and be able to play. It was kind of a surreal day for me.”
With the Packers trailing 14-13 midway through the third quarter, Rodgers found Cobb for a 7-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a 20-14 lead.
While Cobb said he felt good after the first touchdown, it was the second touchdown catch – and game winner – that made him feel like he was back.
The Packers were down 28-27 with 46 seconds left in the winner-take-all game, facing a fourth-and-8 from the Bears’ 48-yard line. Earlier in the drive, the Packers had a fourth-and-1 from their own 22, and head coach Mike McCarthy said he had a “very tough call” to make about bringing in the punt unit.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson said he and the rest of the offense pleaded with McCarthy to “make sure it was on (the offense) to either continue to go on, or go home,” Nelson said. Fullback John Kuhn picked up the 1 yard on a dive, and the Packers’ drive continued.
Cobb said he knew the Packers would score to take the lead.
“I think we all knew that we were going to find a way,” said Cobb, who had been the Packers’ leading receiver (29 receptions) at the time of his injury. “When we came to the first fourth-down (play) and coach was calling the punt team out and we were like, ‘No, let us get this. This is our time. This is our moment.’ We were able to come through in that moment.
“Everybody was calm. It was just go out there and handle your job and go out there and make a play and we were able to make some big plays.”
It set the stage for Cobb and Rodgers to connect for the biggest play of the game, with Cobb catching the ball near the 10-yard line after sprinting past safety Chris Conte, who he said was “flat footed,” expecting him to cut off his route at the first-down marker.
It was a huge play from a player who only played limited snaps but ended up playing more than he’d expected. According to the NFL official game book, Cobb played 37 of the Packers’ 78 offensive snaps.
“I actually expected to play less,” Cobb said. “In our plan, that (I) was going to be on a snap count, wasn’t going to get as many reps as I would like but the way the game was going, I was feeling good. I actually didn’t take my first hit until that touchdown at the end of the game. I didn’t take any hits up until then so that helped out.”
Though Cobb may have struggled with the frustration he experienced while rehabbing his leg injury, his teammates noticed the effort he was putting in to return.
“Randall’s worked extremely hard in the training room trying to get back,” Nelson said. “With his injury, it was one of those that was still up in the air, didn’t know, and obviously we were in a situation not even knowing if we were going to have an opportunity to continue to play. So to get (Rodgers and Cobb) back and obviously play a huge part says a lot about them and the way they prepare and stayed into the team and into the offense and knowing what to do and just making plays.”
Cobb had 10 long weeks to think about what his return from injury would be like, and he said the game and the touchdown were better than he could have imagined.
“I couldn’t write a better script (than) that,” Cobb said. “It was a rough 10 weeks for me and just to be back on the field was the most gratifying thing for me. To be in that moment at the end of the game and have that opportunity, it’s a blessing. I have to take it that way. I’m very fortunate to be in the position I am.
“I’m just grateful to be back on the field, be back playing with my brothers, you see the heart that this team, to go through what we went through all season, and still have a chance to be in the playoffs. To have a game like we had tonight, went back and forth, Chicago played their butts off and competed, come down the way it did, find a way to win the game, I think it speaks a lot about our team and hopefully we can make a playoff run now.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.