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Richard Rodgers had breakout game even before answering prayer

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Even without the 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown catch, Richard Rodgers’ performance on Thursday night against the Detroit Lions would have gone down as the best in his two-year NFL career.

His stat line would have been: Seven catches, 85 yards, zero drops.

Before Thursday, he had never caught more than six passes in a game or totaled more than 58 yards.

But this looks even better: Eight catches, 146 yards, one touchdown – and a highlight for the ages.

Either way, it seemingly came out of nowhere.

“I think you look before the Hail Mary, Richard had a heck of a football game,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think he caught every ball that was thrown to him if my memory is right, so he needed that and we needed that. So we need more production in the passing game. And that was a big night for Richard.”

McCarthy was right; quarterback Aaron Rodgers targeted Richard Rodgers eight times, and he pulled in every one. Long known for having reliable hands, Rodgers claimed his game on Thursday was nothing out of the ordinary.

“I do this every week,” the former third-round pick from Cal said. “I run my same routes, and Aaron decided to find me this week and I made the most of it.”

Before Thursday’s game, he was on pace for the lowest yards-per-catch average by a Packers’ No. 1 tight end in at least 47 years.

Through 11 games, he was averaging just 7.3 yards per catch. It looked like he would become only the Packers’ second No. 1 tight end since 1968 to average fewer than 8.0 yards per catch (Donald Lee, with a 7.8-yard average for the 2008 season, was the first) . Rodgers' yards-after-catch average of 3.95 ranked tied for 18th, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and his average of 1.35 yards after contact paled in comparison to New England's Rob Gronkowski’s NFL-leading 4.32.

Against the Lions, Richard Rodgers posted a season-high 55 yards after the catch and averaged 1.62 yards after contact per catch, his second-highest total of the season in a game with more than three receptions.

It was almost stunning to see the 6-foot-4, 257-pound tight end, not known for his speed, pull away from Lions defenders.

“I never expect to get separation,” said Rodgers, whose season yards-per-catch average climbed to 9.1 after Thursday's game. “I always expect to be covered. Aaron is the best quarterback, and he puts the ball where it needs to be.”