The tough ending notwithstanding, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy still has vivid memories of the emergence of Jermichael Finley in the 51-45 overtime loss at Arizona in an NFC playoff game during the 2009 season.
"That was clearly one of the most dominant performances I've ever been a part of, of a tight end in a game," McCarthy said Friday.
In just his second year as a pro and playing in the postseason for the first time, Finley had six catches for 159 yards in what remains the NFL's highest-scoring playoff game. The breakout performance hinted at stardom for the Packers' young tight end.
Those big games that were predicted to be the norm for the talented and seemingly unstoppable Finley have been a rare occurrence the last three years.
A knee injury kept him from contributing to the run to the Super Bowl title in 2010. Dropped passes hampered him last year, and the first half of this season has been filled with more drops and another injury.
The 159 receiving yards in the desert against the Cardinals on Jan. 10, 2010, still stands as Finley's career high, and his last 100-yard game was in Week 3 of the 2010 season. Finley has only 28 catches for 265 yards and a touchdown at the halfway point this season.
"It's opportunity, getting trust back from A-Rod," Finley said, referring to Aaron Rodgers. "If I was the quarterback, I wouldn't throw it to the guy who's off rhythm right now, either. So I've got to get that trust back."
Buoyed by a personalized video McCarthy had made for him and extensive talks with Rodgers the night before a game, Finley is looking to become a dominant force again when the Packers (5-3) host Arizona (4-4) on Sunday. It's the first meeting between the teams since the playoff shootout.
"I feel it. I feel it, seriously," Finley said after Friday's practice about tapping into his big-play capabilities.
Green Bay's offense could use a big game from Finley with Greg Jennings still sidelined and fellow starting receiver Jordy Nelson questionable with a hamstring injury.
Finley practiced Friday as he recovers from a partially dislocated shoulder suffered against Indianapolis on Oct. 7. The fifth-year veteran has played with the injury the last three games, but his production has been minimal with six catches for 67 yards and no touchdowns.
Finley said he is fully recovered from the injury. As for getting things right between him and Rodgers after Finley has alluded to chemistry issues with his quarterback on several occasions this season, both players are making the effort to spend more time together.
Finley said the instructive one-on-one chats with Rodgers go as long as 45 minutes after the team meeting at its hotel on the eve of each game.
"I'm doing it from here on out every Saturday," Finley said. "The guy (Rodgers) is touching the ball 100 percent of the time. You've got to have that trust. That 30-, 45-minute meeting, that shows a lot. And he just says, 'How do you want the ball?' I tell him, 'It ain't how I want it, you tell me what you want me to do.'"
McCarthy is OK with his star quarterback and struggling tight end talking football until it's almost lights out. The coach has tried to do his part, putting together a video featuring Finley's highlights from his huge game against the Cardinals.
"It was revealing," McCarthy said. "He was a bigger man then."
Finley said McCarthy pulled him out of a meeting in the days after Green Bay's Week 4 win over New Orleans to show him the video in McCarthy's office.
"He said, 'Look at this,'" Finley recalled. "And (the video title) said, 'Finley the Beast.' And it showed the playoff game of '09 against Arizona, where I was attacking the ball, not letting the ball get to my body. It was pretty sweet.
"It was mostly that playoff game, but it was games all around, the beginning of this season, when I was letting the ball get to me. He showed me that. And he showed me a couple plays where I was plucking it, going out and getting the ball."
McCarthy said the impetus for the video was twofold: to give a confidence boost to Finley and point out flaws in his pass-catching technique that were apparent earlier this season.
"It got me pumped. It got me jacked up. I'm not going to lie," Finley said. "Everybody has a coming-out game in the season where they get comfortable and start rolling, and I'm hoping it's this game (against the Cardinals) once again. They've got pretty much the same guys, so I have to play my type of ball."