How a three-day old, made-up play helped Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams save the Packers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Aaron Rodgers dropped it in his postgame news conference like it was no big deal. The Green Bay Packers quarterback started to describe how he orchestrated the game-winning drive – one he pulled off in 37 seconds without a single timeout to beat the San Francisco 49ers at the gun.

“It was a play we made up in practice on Thursday,” Rodgers began.

Wait, what?

Rodgers serves many roles – MVP quarterback, team captain and Captain Comeback among them.

Add play designer to that list.

Near the end of every Thursday practice, the Packers run the 2-minute drill. Last week, there was a play that Rodgers liked, but with a caveat: He wanted to change one thing. He preferred that the slot receiver to the right, in this case Randall Cobb, go deep to take the safety away from the primary receiver, Davante Adams, on the outside.

So just as the 49ers took the lead with 37 seconds remaining – their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half – Rodgers huddled with coach Matt LaFleur and passing game coordinator Luke Getsy to discuss their options for the first play of the drive.

They flashed back to Thursday’s practice.

“I like to adjust some routes from time to time,” Rodgers explained after the game. “I get a look at what it feels like against our defense, and so I just adjusted one of the routes, and we all liked it, and Matty suggested it right before we went out. He said, ‘What do you think about this play?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I like that. I think that’d be pretty good.’”

Sure enough, it worked just as Rodgers imagined. Cobb dragged safety Jimmie Ward with him down the field, leaving Adams alone with linebacker Fred Warner dropping into coverage.

“When I came up, I was thinking first window on the deep in to Davante,” Rodgers said. “But Fred was kind of in the way.”

So Rodgers waited another beat and let Adams continue behind Warner. Rodgers, as he said, “put it over his head.”

And that’s what a play looks like that’s drawn up just three days before the game.

“I think the fact we had no timeouts played a lot into it because they were kind of shielding that sideline,” Adams said of his 11th catch of the game. “So the middle of the field was pretty wide open.”

It went for 25 yards and instantly got the Packers to midfield, where Rodgers, without a timeout, spiked the ball to stop the clock.

“We had a similar play in our third-down package, in like a third-and-long situation,” LaFleur said. “And give credit to Luke Getsy. He came up and was talking about the route, and we were afraid that it could potentially bring a safety over. We were actually calling it to throw it over on the other side, so we changed the route and changed the concept.

“When we got into that situation there at the end, we talked about it on the sideline, how potentially that could be a really good play for us. And the guys went out there and executed. It was great protection up front and we had two guys chipping. I want to say it was Bobby [Tonyan] and Aaron Jones. I’m watching Aaron Jones, all 190 pounds he is, taking on a defensive end. I think that says a lot about him, too.”

It also said a lot about an offensive line that was down to its third-string left tackle, Yosh Nijman, who held up well and was an unsung hero of the game.

Still, the Packers needed one more play to get Mason Crosby into field goal range. After an incompletion, Rodgers went back to Adams for 17 more yards (giving him 12 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown), spiked it with 3 seconds left and turned it over to Crosby for the 51-yard, game-winning kick.

That Adams even finished the game came as a surprise to Rodgers. Midway through the fourth quarter, Ward drilled Adams to the point where the receiver spent several minutes on the turf before he was able to walk off. What looked like a possible head injury turned out to be Adams just needing time to catch his breath. After being checked for a concussion and cleared, Adams returned after missing just one play.

“I didn’t realize he just had a hard time breathing and it was nothing to the head,” Rodgers said. “My first thought may have been, when he took that terrible shot from [then-Bears linebacker Danny] Trevathan a few years ago, I remember the next day, he was completely clear. Some people’s heads respond differently to trauma. Some guys have a hard time with it and can’t come back, some guys kind of clear right away.

“So I was like, ‘Wow, that was quick.’ Then I realized he obviously didn’t have a head trauma so he was able to come back out there. … My first thoughts in devising how I wanted to get us into field goal range was, ‘How can I get 17 the ball?’”

It turned out the made-up play from earlier in the week was just the right way.