If the Green Bay Packers wind up winning the Super Bowl, Oakland and the New York Giants are going to owe some apologies to the rest of the NFL.
James Jones, back on the Packers’ roster for all of a week after being cut by both the Raiders and Giants in a four-month span, caught two touchdowns Sunday and would have had a third if not for an offensive penalty.
Sure, he was only gone from Green Bay a year and he’s always been one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets. But Jones has something to prove, and that motivation might just help the Packers overcome the loss of Jordy Nelson.
“I’m just going to say I’m playing with a little chip on my shoulder. I am,” Jones said after Green Bay’s 31-23 victory. “If somebody tells you that you can’t do something, you want to go out there and prove them wrong.”
Now, this isn’t to say the Packers are going to waltz through the season and into Super Bowl 50. Losing Nelson, whose speed and ability to make big plays keeps defenses honest, to a torn ACL was a huge blow. But with Jones joining Randall Cobb andDavante Adams, not to mention Eddie Lacy, Rodgers has enough toys to keep him occupied until early February.
And he’s going to need them if Green Bay’s defense keeps playing like it did Sunday.
Despite Green Bay scoring on five of its seven possessions — the Packers also had a kneel-down at the end of each half — the victory wasn’t sealed until Clay Matthews picked off Jay Cutler with a little under four minutes left. The Packers gave up 402 yards, with Matt Forte gouging them for 141 — 105 of those in the first half.
“In that type of game, where they put up a lot of yards on offense and our defense kind of held them to some field goals in the red zone, we knew we had to put up some points,” Rodgers said.
Jones became one of Rodgers’ go-to receivers in his first stint in Green Bay. He led the NFL with 14 touchdowns in 2012, a season in which he also set career highs for receptions (64) and yards receiving (784). He left after the 2013 season, signing a three-year, $10 million deal with Oakland.
But playing with a rookie, Derek Carr, isn’t quite like playing with the two-time NFL MVP, and Jones didn’t make the impact the Raiders hoped. With Jones already 31, the Raiders didn’t bother to see if his second year would be any better, cutting him May 5.
He went unemployed until the end of July, when the Giants signed him. But they didn’t find much use for him, either, releasing him Sept. 5.
“It’s amazing he’s been cut by two teams in five months,” Cobb said. “It just makes zero sense to me.”
But the timing couldn’t have been better for the Packers. Or Jones, for that matter. He was in Green Bay the day after the Giants cut him, officially signing his deal Monday.
In Jones, the Packers get a receiver who not only knows their offense, but who Rodgers trusts and is comfortable with. Jones gets a chance to show everyone — New York and Oakland in particular — that he’s still got some game left.
“No disrespect to James, but I don’t think it was that out of character. I really don’t,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s a credit to him and the way he approaches his job.
“I think he’s one of those guys who really feels good in the offense,” Rodgers added. “I had no hesitation going to him. I told him that before the game.”
Fantasy owners may not have bought that — that wailing sound you heard Sunday was from everyone who turned up their noses at the chance to draft him — but the Packers had no doubt. Sure enough, the first TD of the season was so retro the Packers should have been in their throw-back jerseys: Rodgers to Jones for a 13-yard score.
Jones also had a 1-yard score in the third quarter to give Green Bay the lead for good.
“If I was a betting man, I would’ve bet the ball was going to go to him today,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “James looked like he never left.”
The rest of the NFL, Oakland and the Giants in particular, can consider itself warned.
This article was republished with permission from the original author, 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today.