Will Finley's Big Game Lead to Bigger Things?

Jermichael Finley (Raj Mehta/USP)

Jermichael Finley's two big plays against Detroit are part of an increasing confidence level with the talented but inconsistent tight end. If Finley's production wasn't just a one-game thing, a budding contender might be that much more potent for a possible playoff run.

The Green Bay Packers' elevator is on the rise.

They've won five in a row and several of the team's top players, including Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings and Cedric Benson, figure to return for the stretch run. That makes the Packers a dangerous team should they continue on their path to the playoffs.

Imagine how good the Packers could be if the Jermichael Finley that showed up at Detroit on Sunday can become a valuable and trusted member of the offense.

Finley made the two biggest plays on the offensive side of the ball in a gutty, 24-20 victory over the Lions. The first was on the receiving end of a called screen that turned into a 20-yard, misdirection touchdown and a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. The second was a 31-yard completion that jump-started the game-winning drive.

Those were the type of big plays coach Mike McCarthy envisioned when he called Finley into his office last month to show an all-Finley highlight package of his dominant performance in a playoff loss at Arizona in 2009.

"Absolutely, he had two of them today," McCarthy said after the game. "That was a screen, with him being the option on the first touchdown. For him to catch that ball and split the middle (was a key play). The other one, too, breaking tackles. His game is so much about confidence and you've just got to keep trying to create as many opportunities as possible."

That Arizona game – and a four-game, 21-catch start to 2010 before a season-ending knee injury – has been Finley's calling card. It's hinted at his enormous potential, but rather than turning potential into production, the potential has delivered little more than disappointment. Sure, his 2010 season was sandwiched between 55-catch campaigns in 2009 and 2011, but his long history of dropped passes and his lack of shyness around media microphones has made him a target of fans' scorn.

In one way, the bar has been raised impossibly high for Finley. He's shown that he can dominate but he'll never put up dominant numbers – like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and New England's Rob Gronkowski -- in the Packers' deep and diverse offense.

"In fairness to Jermichael, we don't go out and specifically target opportunities," McCarthy said. "It's a quarterback-driven offense that's conceptually built to attack a defense."

Maybe it's far-fetched given Finley's career-long inconsistency, but maybe better days are to come. Critically, he fought through a severe shoulder injury sustained on Oct. 7 that limited practice time but never kept him out of a game.

"Jermichael, he's a guy that needs to get as many reps as he can on the (practice) field to get a feel of what it's going to be like on Sunday," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said recently. "I think that with the limited amount of reps that he took the past couple of weeks, it showed up a little bit on the field in the sense that he didn't play every down that we probably would have wanted him to. Production-wise, it's not where we want it and we're always working for improvement."

Maybe more importantly, Finley's big game has instilled some confidence. Finley comes across as a guy who's never lacking for confidence, but McCarthy – speaking generically and not specifically about Finley – likes to point to the difference between "confidence" and "real confidence." By turning two short catches into long gains against Detroit, Finley said there's "no doubt, man" when asked if that the game could serve as a "jumping-off" point for the rest of the season.

"It's big," said Finley, who snapped a career-long streak of eight games without a touchdown. "Like Mike said, get the confidence back, get my head back into the game, and get Rodgers back looking at me. It's all a good thing."

The confidence has trickled down to the quarterback, who ultimately is the one who decides who gets the ball and who gives the offense the best chance for success on any given play.

"I give Jermichael a lot of credit," Aaron Rodgers said. "On the touchdown catch, that's a play that we haven't run in awhile, probably weeks, and I haven't hit him on that in probably over a year, even counting practice. So for him to still be awake on that play and understand (that while) he's kind of an alert, meaning he's not in the progression, that if things happen a certain way, he could get it. The ball was low, he made a nice catch and was able to get that in the end zone. So, I give him a lot of credit. Obviously, the play on the last drive, great job not going out of bounds. I think his head's really been in it the last couple of weeks. Him and I have been spending time together (on the Saturday night before a Sunday game) and I'm excited about him moving forward."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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