By ZACH HEILPRIN
GREEN BAY -- James Jones, a lightning rod among fans, showed how much he means to the Green Bay Packers offense on Sunday. The receiver didn’t lead the team in catches or yards, but came up with three of the biggest grabs of the game as the Packers squeaked out a 28-27 victory over New Orleans.
“We’re all about making the most of our opportunities,” Jones said. “Aaron (Rodgers) has a lot of weapons. If you ask the receivers, everybody is open on every play. He’s always going to get that. When the ball goes your way, just make a play.”
Or even when it’s not coming your way. Jones second catch of the game was a 12-yard touchdown that was actually intended for tight end Jermichael Finley.
“I stole one from him,” Jones said of Finley. “The play (broke) down, Aaron scrambled, on the scramble I saw Jermichael inside of me, I had turned outside and I didn’t see him turn outside with me. I just saw the ball when I looked up and grabbed it from him. So I owe him one. He said he would have done the same thing. The biggest thing is we got seven on the board.”
His second touchdown was more of the normal variety as he beat press coverage on a slant route and caught a 14-yard dart from Rodgers to put Green Bay ahead, 21-7, in the middle of the second quarter.
Perhaps the biggest catch, even though a defensive pass interference penalty would have given them a first down anyway, came as the offense was trying to run out the clock. On third-and-3 Jones ran what Rodgers called a fade-stop route that was covered well by the Saints Jabari Greer but Rodgers tried the back-shoulder throw anyway.
“That last play there, you feel great about the opportunity to win it there with a completion,” Rodgers said.
“We had a good play call. They brought a little pressure and played man coverage. We liked the matchup with James and he made an incredible catch. Obviously, got interfered with. Big play for us.”
“I saw the ball thrown inside and I stuck one hand down there,” Jones said. “Sometimes you get lucky in football, and that’s what that was. I caught it under his elbow on the other side of his body and pulled it in. The biggest thing about it is that it was a first down. We could run the clock out and get out there with a victory.”
The fact that Rodgers went to Jones in such a critical situation underscores his value to the offense.
“Very happy with the way James played,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “James has been very consistent this year and he’s clearly off to his most consistent year in his time here, in my opinion. The catch he made to seal the game, that’s two plays where we were on the same page. There’s no X’s and O’s gratification in that particular throw and catch. That’s a great job.”
It was a big win for a Packers team that now heads on the road for three straight, starting in Indianapolis next Sunday. Jones immergence early in the season has come as receiver Greg Jennings continues to struggle to stay on the field, leaving Sunday’s game early with a reoccurring groin injury.
“Not talking down on Greg (Jennings) or whatnot, but in this league, it’s the next man up,” Finley said. “And we’ve got a good next man up, and that’s 89 (Jones), who showed up today and played tremendously. I’m excited about what we’ve got in store.”
“I think it tells you how well our receiving corps works,” McCarthy said of the offense getting it done without Jennings. “It’s an interchangeable group. It’s the only group I’ve ever had, and it’s been like that my entire time here, every receiver plays every position. They’re all interchangeable, so you’re able to move them all over the place and create opportunities for everybody. It also gives you the flexibility of matchups. James has definitely taken advantage of that with his opportunity. We’re very happy with the way he played.”
Jones’ five catches for 56 yards came on just six targets, while his two touchdowns give him three on the year, almost half of Rodgers total for the season. It was his second two-touchdown game of his career, with the other coming against Chicago on Christmas last year.
While fans may have lost confidence in Jones in recent seasons due to what they perceive as a large number of drops it’s clear that he and Rodgers are on the same page.
“I hope he never lost confidence in me,” Jones explained. “But like I said Aaron (Rodgers) throws to the open guy. Me and him (have been) able to connect on some big plays thus far this season and hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Zach Heilprin covers the Packers for WBEV and WXRO radio in Beaver Dam, sister stations of ESPNWisconsin. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zachheilprin.