GREEN BAY – James Jones proved last season – after leading the National Football League with 14 touchdown receptions – that he can be counted on to produce on the field for the Green Bay Packers.
So when Jones was only targeted twice and didn’t have a catch in Sunday’s 34-28 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, his head coach wasn’t concerned. Instead, he was impressed with how Jones handled the situation.
“I look at James as one of our emerging leaders on our football team,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “James is extremely professional (and) does a lot of the little things that I don’t think the average person realizes.”
McCarthy also called Jones a “class act,” and noted that Jones puts in “extra time” – so much so that he brought his son, James Jr., in with him on the player’s off day Tuesday so he could spend more time preparing for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins.
Despite McCarthy’s compliment, Jones said he doesn’t see himself as an “emerging leader” because he thinks he took on that role on last year.
“I'm just a lead-by-example guy,” Jones said. “When (there’s) something to be said and I feel it's time for me to step up and say something, I will, but other than that, I lead by example. A lot of the young guys ask me questions and I help them out, and things like that, but I'm the same guy I was last year.
“Greg (Jennings) got hurt, and Donald (Driver) wasn't really into playing like that, so I stepped into that role last year.”
Even with Jennings and Driver gone, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a receiving corps of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jones, and Jermichael Finley available to him. Rodgers said on Wednesday that against the 49ers, “five or six” of his 37 pass attempts were throwaways, and Jones didn’t get targeted “as many times as we would have liked.”
Still, Rodgers said he was impressed by Jones’ play on Sunday, and much like after the 2011 regular-season opener, when Jones had just one reception for 1 yard, the quarterback said he didn't think Sunday was indicative of the wide receiver’s role in the Packers’ offense.
“He was awesome,” Rodgers said Tuesday on his radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. “He was great. He's a guy who runs every route to win. I'm just really proud of him as a teammate. He's unselfish, (but) obviously wants the ball.
“He's a dynamic player. He knows what he can add to this team. It depends upon matchups a lot of times and the type of route that he's running. There are just more opportunities inside. I'm not worried about James. I know he knows the ball is going to come his way this season and I know he's going to make those plays.”
Jones’ limited numbers were not the result of limited playing time. According to the official NFL gamebook, Jones played all 62 offensive snaps against the 49ers, as did Jordy Nelson, who caught seven passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Randall Cobb, who played 53 snaps, caught seven passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. And tight end Jermichael Finley, who played 59 snaps, caught five passes for 56 yards and a touchdown.
On Wednesday, Rodgers explained that much like last year, the Packers saw the 49ers play their safeties deep, which can take away opportunities for outside receivers like Jones when a safety can provide help to the cornerback covering him, and when the Packers did get 1-high safety looks, it happened to be Nelson who was targeted.
“I think that's what you saw in the game, for both James and Jordy,” Rodgers said. “There were a lot of 2-high safeties, so it's going to be tough for our outside receivers, and that's why the ball went more to Randall and Jermichael. Once we can run the ball better, we're going to see more one-on-ones, and he's going to get more opportunities.”
Jones hasn’t complained about his lack of chances – at least not publicly – and said he understands that they will come.
“There isn't anything to yap about,” Jones said. “We're just trying to win. I'd be (really) selfish if I came in here and had an attitude or something. Jordy had a great game, Randall had a great game. I'm happy for all those dudes. I'm the one who said we all were going to have a thousand (receiving yards each this season), so I'm not mad about it.
“Like I said from Day 1, we have a lot of weapons in this room. You're not going to get 10 passes every game. The main thing is, just stay the course. Run your route to win. If (Rodgers) doesn't see you, he doesn't see you. If he does see you, he'll get it to you.
“If I don't get it, my other teammates are getting it, and we still have a chance to win the game, and we're going to go down there and make some plays.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.