DETROIT -- Mike Daniels was the second-to-last Green Bay Packers player to leave the visitor’s locker room at Ford Field on Thursday night. As he walked through the double doors, he looked over his right shoulder toward the only remaining player.
“That,” Daniels said shaking his head, “was amazing.”
If anyone was going to pluck that ball out of the air -- a ball that climbed toward the rafters and sailed through the air for 4.35 seconds -- Richard Rodgers, the 6-foot-4 tight end with the pillow-soft hands, was as good a candidate as the Packers had.
“When you see Richard’s big paws underneath it, that was a good sign,” Packers backup quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “He has true mitts. I mean, Richie does not drop passes.”
“He’s got good hands,” Aaron Rodgers said.
They’ve been saying that in Green Bay since Packers general manager Ted Thompson picked Richard Rodgers in the third round of the 2014 draft.
So as the second-year tight end backpedaled his 257-pound body into the end zone to get into position, those on the Packers sideline figured the play -- a bonus on an untimed down after a controversial face mask penalty against Detroit’s Devin Taylor -- had a chance.
With four defenders -- plus teammates Davante Adams and Randall Cobb -- behind him, Richard Rodgers made it look fairly easy. He snagged the ball with both hands and pulled it to his chest as he went down.
“Richard is the perfect guy for that type of situation [with his] big body and his ability to go up,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “You see his old basketball skills to go up and high-point the football. But frankly, I love those. Aaron can get it into the end zone, but with that much height, I was a little concerned. But what a great throw. How far was it? I’m sure you figured it out already. It had to be 70-plus.”
It was close.
Aaron Rodgers, after he avoided Lions defensive end Jason Jones and rolled to his right, let it fly as his feet straddled his own 35-yard line. Richard Rodgers was a couple of yards into the end zone when he secured it. According to the Elias Sports Bureau research, it was the longest game-winning, game-ending Hail Mary in NFL history.
Here’s the thing, though: He wasn’t even supposed to make a play on the ball. His job was supposed to clear space, to use another basketball skill and box out the defenders, so Adams would get the first crack at it.
“It’s written in the playbook that it’s my job to box out and Davante’s supposed to jump and I’m supposed to wait for a tip,” Richard Rodgers said. “I might get an M.A. for that. I’ll take it, I guess.”
But unlike former tight end Brandon Bostick, whose missed assignment in last season’s NFC Championship Game prevented the Packers from securing an onside kick that likely would’ve sent them to the Super Bowl, Richard Rodgers’ M.A. might have saved this season. It was the difference between 7-5 and 8-4 with four games to play.
“I’m supposed to go up and try to catch it, and if it gets deflected, then all those other guys are there,” Adams said. “But Richard had other plans, and he had a great plan in mind, and I’m glad he went with that.”
Adams, who caught Aaron Rodgers’ first touchdown of the night, didn’t even care that his tight end stole his moment.
He eventually made his way over to Richard Rodgers’ corner of the locker room to offer his congratulations. So did Tolzien, who bear-hugged him.
“I’m so proud of you,” Tolzien told him as the crowd around him dispersed, leaving Richard Rodgers as the last man in the locker room.