So, that’s what “tasting victory” means.
After Jermichael Finley bulled his way into the end zone for his second touchdown on Monday, he joined the fans with his second Lambeau Leap of the night.
“I just felt this beer dripping into the hole in the top of my helmet. It tasted pretty good,” Finley said.
Finley has come a long, long ways since his washout rookie season. He made more news with his mouth last year than with his play, infamously criticizing quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ passes and coach Mike McCarthy’s play-calling after an overtime loss at Tennessee.
On Monday night, Finley was the offense’s captain, a testament to how far he’s come mentally and physically. His 2-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter gave the Packers a 10-0 lead, and his physical 19-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter bumped the lead to 24-14 in the fourth quarter.
“You ask any of the players in that locker room, Jermichael Finley is a difference-maker,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday. “We knew that last year. You look at the way he finished the season. Some of the things we tried to do with him at the end of the year and then coming out of the spring, he was a big part of our thinking from Day 1.”
Finley missed most of four games with a knee sprain suffered early in the game at Cleveland on Oct. 25.
The offense wasn’t bad without him, averaging 25.5 points in those four games. Since his return against San Francisco on Nov. 22, the Packers have averaged 30.3 points in going 3-0. Finley caught 17 passes in those games.
On Monday, he was featured against a Ravens defense playing without All-Pro safety Ed Reed, and he took advantage of his matchup against Tom Zbikowski by catching seven passes for 79 yards and the two touchdowns. The first touchdown was a fade in which the 6-foot-5 Finley was just too big for the 5-foot-11 Zbikowski.
“I knew I had a mismatch on me,” Finley said. “When I came out of the huddle, I told A-Rod, ‘Throw it up.’”
His production is exactly what the Packers had in mind after Finley had a dominant preseason.
“You go through training camp, and just watching him grow each week,” McCarthy said. “He had the setback with the knee injury against Cleveland and it’s great to have him back. He is a matchup problem. His (first) touchdown, it speaks volumes. You motion a guy out of the backfield and you get the one-on-one. I thought Aaron’s throw was excellent there and he goes up and makes the catch. I would definitely classify Jermichael Finley as a difference-maker.”
Impressively, he caught seven of the eight passes thrown his direction. On the drive that was capped with his 2-yard touchdown, Finley had receptions of 29 yards and 14 yards on third-and-7. After bring critical of Rodgers last year, they have built an obvious chemistry this year. Finley says he and Rodgers talk frequently during practice to make sure they’re on the same page, and they were on the same page for most of Monday’s game.
TE Jermichael Finley joins the fans after his first TD.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
“It’s nice, showing up on ‘Monday Night Football,’ there’s nothing like it,” Finley said. “We’ve still got a playoff run to go and that’s what I’m about. If (I) do it in the playoffs, then I’ll be happy.”
With his size, Finley’s a tough matchup for a defensive back. With his speed, he’s a tough matchup for a linebacker. With 37 catches for 418 yards, his 12.3-yard average ranks fifth among the tight ends who rank in the top 25 in receptions at the position.
Because defenses have to be wary, he opens things up for big-play receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.
“It depends on what the defense wants to do,” Jennings said. “I definitely think he helps. I definitely think he helps. When we spread everybody out, it’s hard. That’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body, so it’s hard for teams to play him with a linebacker or a safety. He’s definitely a matchup problem.”
— The Packers’ game against Pittsburgh on Dec. 20 was moved to a 3:15 p.m. kickoff by Fox and the NFL.
— The Packers suffered two injuries to key defenders, with Nick Barnett suffering a knee sprain and Ryan Pickett a hamstring strain. Asked about Barnett’s availability for this week’s game at Chicago, McCarthy said he “can’t even speculate” until he gets more information on Wednesday. Barnett played the entire game on Monday and didn’t mention the injury to reporters while standing at his locker for several long interviews after the game.
— The Packers and Ravens combined for 23 penalties for 310 yards, which wasn’t exactly a surprise based on the track record of referee Walt Coleman’s crew. Of note will be the three interference penalties on Tramon Williams. Teams certainly will test him down the stretch.
“I think if you just pull up our depth chart when you’re going to game plan for the Green Bay Packers, you’re going to see Charles Woodson on one side and whoever else on the other,” McCarthy said. “I think that would probably be a starting point. I can’t speak for other offensive coordinators. But Tramon knows that, and he welcomes that competition.”
— The Packers close the season with three of four games on the road. The Packers are 3-2 on the road this year and 16-13 under McCarthy.
“Well, road games are always a challenge,” he said. “You’re playing uphill from the time you get off the bus. There’s no question about that. I think we’ve played well on the road through my tenure here. I think the way we’re built offensively helps us play on the road. We’re familiar with playing in Chicago this time of year. It seems like we almost play the same weekend down there every year, so that’s nothing new for us. It’s a rival game and that’s the way we’re approaching it. You can throw the records out the window.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.