Crowning achievement: Packers receivers prove worthy once and for all

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- So about the Green Bay Packers' need for a receiver ...

Perhaps you caught Aaron Rodgers' gesture after Allen Lazard's 58-yard touchdown pass to lock up Saturday's NFC divisional playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams. There was Rodgers, ready to meet Lazard on his way back to the sideline. Rodgers raised two hands over Lazard's head and lowered them to the top of his helmet.

It mimicked Lazard's own crowing of Davante Adams when he placed an actual gold and glittery crown on Adams' helmetless head after his second touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in Week 16.

Adams remains king of the Packers' receivers, but the group has legitimized itself and in the process has disproved the theory that Rodgers needed more help -- as just about every mock draft last spring suggested (and already has started to suggest for the next draft; see Todd McShay's first mock draft released this month).

Lazard & Co. just keep laughing their way to the end zone.

"That was pretty cool, obviously. I've been crowning those guys all year," Lazard said. "I don't think I deserve it too much. For him to do that, it shows the respect he has for me and the trust he has for me to come back in that crucial situation to be able to make a play like that was huge, obviously.

"It just goes to show you how strong our relationship is and the whole team relationship, how much we just want to succeed. No matter who's out there making plays, we just want to win."

This group, with help from the Packers' makeshift offensive line that so far has excelled without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (torn ACL on Dec. 31), has helped Rodgers reach Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field (3:05 p.m. ET, Fox).

General manager Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur offered plenty of hints that they would stick with their receiver group from last season. In a sure sign that LaFleur did not think they got enough out of the group, he fired position coach Alvis Whitted shortly after the 2019 season and replaced him with a young, energetic Jason Vrable. And then Gutekunst passed on receivers during the deepest receiver draft in history after signing Devin Funchess in free agency. (Funchess took the COVID-19 opt-out before the season).

Gutekunst got heavily involved in trade talks for Houston Texans receiver Will Fuller V just before the Nov. 3 trade deadline but did not make the deal. At that point, however, Lazard had not yet returned from the core muscle surgery he underwent after his six-catch, 146-yard, one-touchdown game against the Saints in Week 3.

"I think we could sense it in training camp in terms of just, we were so much better mentally and guys understanding why we're trying to get done, what we're exactly trying to do, so I just think that's where it kind of started to take shape," LaFleur said Monday. "You truly never know until you get out there and you compete in a game-type atmosphere, and I think Week 1 it was pretty evident those guys were ready to roll."

Saturday's win over the Rams showed once again that what the Packers had was enough. Adams was limited to nine catches for 66 yards and a touchdown -- an otherwise acceptable performance if not for his through-the-roof, All-Pro numbers this season. But Lazard (four catches for 96 yards), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (four catches for 33 yards) and even Equanimeous St. Brown (one catch for 27 yards) plus newfound playmaking tight end Robert Tonyan (four catches for 60 yards) helped carry the day.

That Rodgers went back to Lazard for the fourth-quarter touchdown after he dropped a ball on nearly the identical play in the third quarter spoke volumes. Rodgers also hasn't been deterred by Valdes-Scantling's drop issues and routinely has returned to targeting him.

"Sometimes it can be a 4-yard play that gets us another first down, set of downs, and we come back and hit Allen to put us up two scores," Rodgers said after the game. "There were a lot of those little plays that made a big difference in the game."

They could be the case in Sunday's NFC title game, too.

It's a rematch of the Week 6 game in Tampa, when Rodgers threw two interceptions (including just the third pick-six of his career) that turned a 10-0 lead into a 38-10 loss. The Packers didn't have Lazard that day, and Adams (six catches for 61 yards) was in his first game back after missing 2 1/2 games because of a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, the Bucs' speedy linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White dominated the day. After that game, White said the Packers "didn't deserve to be on the field with us."

When asked about that comment on Monday, LaFleur said: "He was right; they whipped us."

But the Packers' receivers and their offense as a whole haven't been shut down like that often.

"I think we believe in our wide receiver group the utmost," Lazard said. "We have the No. 1 offense in the league, so we're not really worried about who's on the other side of the ball, so to speak. We knew that we could stretch them vertically and horizontally as well. We were just playing fast and just doing our job."