When Jordy Nelson went down in August of 2015, the Packers hobbled their way through what was widely considered a subpar passing game that season. They had no true No. 1 wide receiver, and as a result, a pure slot receiver in Randall Cobb was exposed by opposing schemes. The youthful second-year Davante Adams battled through an ankle injury for a majority of the season. There was no Ty Montgomery. There was no 6'5" vertical threat at tight end that could vertically stretch the field and provide as a third-down security blanket for Rodgers.
A year removed from the culmination of that dreadful campaign, the Packers may once again find themselves having to soldier on without league's receiving touchdown leader.
Nelson took an illegal helmet shot to the ribcage from Giants' safety Leon Hall when going up for a pass in the second quarter. After remaining hunched over on the sideline for several moments, he was soon helped up and carted into the locker room. Eventually, he was ruled out for the game and his status for next week's playoff game in Dallas was officially put in jeopardy.
Head coach Mike McCarthy hadn't spoken to any of the trainers after the game, so he was just as concerned as the rest of those wondering during his postgame presser.
The Packers aren't reverting back to the mess that epitomized them in 2015, though.
Cobb has all of the momenta in the world after his three touchdown performance against the Giants. Adams is smarter, quicker, stronger, healthier. Montgomery is more explosive than ever and dodged a bullet on Sunday with a brief stinger to his surgically-repaired left ankle. Cook is 6'5" and the exact kind of aforementioned vertical threat that Rodgers can utilize, including in third-down situations where that duo has shined this season.
On top of that, the offensive line is protecting the cornerstone of the franchise like their lives depend on it — like their season has been on the line every single week.
If anything is for certain, Adams has shown he has the talent to be seen as a No. 1 receiver in any passing offense. The only true test that remains is whether or not that notion can be confirmed without Nelson on the field. This Sunday at AT&T Stadium against the first-seeded Cowboys should do the trick.
Even without Nelson on Sunday, Cobb and Adams combined for 241 receiving yards, the most by any two Packers' receivers in team playoff history. Coincidentally, they were both owners of the previous record of 233 combined receiving yards set against the Cowboys in the 2014 NFC Divisional round. If there was any better time for that duo to shoulder the load as Rodgers' top-tier targets while the Packers aim for an extended playoff run, doing so here in the heat of January would simply be the protocol for those two.
Cobb put together one of his less productive seasons, averaging a career-low 10.2 yards per reception and tied his lowest touchdown total since his injury-plagued 2013 where he only caught four — two of them coming in week 17. He also missed the final two games of the season before being declared active for the Wild Card round. However, as the recipient of 14.04 percent of targets this season — third-most on the team, the confidence in Cobb has yet to waver.
His three touchdowns on Sunday marked the tying of an NFL postseason record of which Cobb had no idea he left his mark on. For someone who spent his last playoff game watching his team from a hospital bed while they cycled through Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis as their leading receivers, the script couldn't have been better-written for Cobb.
Unwavering confidence, and trusting the process, even sans Nelson.
"I think everybody just stuck to our job," Cobb said after his career day. "Put ourselves in a position to make plays when they were there, whenever we had those opportunities. We hate seeing one of our guys going down, but we have to continue to play. We knew our season was on the line."
On the other side, Adams was tied for second in the league for most receiving touchdowns this season behind only his fellow locker mate. His presence has been highly regarded as "game-changing" for the Packers' offense and has supplied Rodgers with more stability at the position in the case of emergency events like Nelson going down.
"Once we had that spark, it kind of got us going," Adams said outside his locker after the game. "We all kind of had to look at one another, look at ourselves; it's playoff time and we weren't even playing like it was a playoff game. We weren't playing like it meant anything to us."
This was only the second full season that Adams was able to play alongside Nelson, and there's the likelihood that Nelson's nine years of formulating chemistry with Rodgers was rubbed off on the Fresno State alumni.
"It'll take a blow by him (Nelson) coming out of this game," Adams said of the leader to his position group. "Not sure exactly what's going on with him, but, I'll talk to him later and hopefully everything's okay. We had to pick up the slack."
"That was a huge piece of our offense we had to play without from early in the game."
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