That's exactly what happened early in the second quarter last Sunday at Soldier Field. On second-and-1 at the Chicago Bears' 7-yard line, Finley lined up as a slot receiver. At the snap, he took a few steps off the ball and began blocking Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, hoping to target Finley in the end zone, scrambled to the right to buy more time.
Finley noticed the scramble, realized his mistake and broke in the opposite direction. Rodgers fired a low pass away from Briggs. Finley scooped it for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 14-point lead in their eventual 27-17 victory.
Not many of us were aware of the mistake immediately after the game, but Rodgers confirmed the scenario during his Tuesday radio show on ESPN 540. The play illustrated both Finley's raw skills and his still-ample room for development.
"Jermichael is a special talent," Rodgers said. "He really is. You saw that from the moment he got here. I think he's really grown up as a person and as a player [and is] understanding his role better in the offense. He makes incredible plays in the game. ...
"But at the same time, there are still some mental errors he makes from time to time. He's able to get through those because of his incredible athletic ability and his great reactions to make up for the wrong thing. 'J-Mike' just needs more reps. ... He has incredible talent and I think he would say he had a couple mental errors in the game."
Mental errors or not, Finley finished the game with a career-high three touchdowns, an event that has on average has happened for a tight end about once a season since the 1970 merger. (Details: 37 times in the past 41-plus seasons.) Although he is competing for the ball with a slew of skilled teammates, Finley has put himself on pace to record the first 1,000-yard season for a tight end in Packers history.
"My goal," Finley said, "is to go out there and catch everything that's thrown to me. Look at the film. That's what I did."
Almost literally, in fact. Finley caught seven of the eight passes Rodgers targeted him on Sunday, and the pair have connected on an incredible 15 of a 17 passes this season. So even though 15 NFL tight ends have been targeted on more throws this season, Finley is tied for the fourth-most receptions among all tight ends.
I don't think there is much of a secret about Finley's ability to impact games, whether or not he knows the play. To me, the only mystery has been how often he would be on the field and how frequently Rodgers would target him given the Packers' across-the-board talent.
ESPN Stats & Information provided the playing-time chart that both accompanies this post and is the subject of this week's 411 video below. Jennings and Finley have been on the field more often than anyone, and it breaks down accordingly from there. The Packers are doing everything they can to keep Finley as engaged as possible, but Rodgers is throwing to him only when dictated by defenses.
On Sunday, the Bears' Cover 2 defense was an invitation to feed the ball to Finley in the middle of the field. Rodgers was only too happy to oblige.
"There's really not too much you can do about that," Jennings said. "With the weapons we have, and with him playing like that, it's lights out. There really isn't too much they can do. You can let the chips fall where they may. You take one thing away, and you really open up a can of other things."