GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike McCarthy knew the statistic without hesitation. It may have taken him 24 hours to find out, but the Green Bay Packers’ coach was very much aware of the historic performance that his group of receivers had Sunday in a Week 2 victory over the Washington Redskins.
Though it was quarterback Aaron Rodgers who garnered most of the post-game attention for the records that he broke, it was the Packers’ receiving corp who deserve a lot of the credit for that. Of Rodgers’ 480 passing yards, 295 of it was gained in yards after catch (YAC). If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is.
“Second-most ever, I think,” McCarthy said Monday. “I heard about it, yeah.”
McCarthy was correct. According to STATS LLC, not since the Houston Oilers in a mid-November game during the 1992 season has an NFL team posted that many yards after catch.
However, even after McCarthy watched the game film Monday, it still didn’t quite add up to him that Green Bay’s receivers had a record-setting game.
“I would’ve never known that that was the best performance,” McCarthy said. “I get the halftime statistics so I get an understanding of the production, but I would’ve never … I knew we had a good day; it was obvious we had a good day catching the ball and yards after the catch. But I would’ve never known, especially not knowing what the record was.”
James Jones set a personal career-high with 178 receiving yards, but he also led the team by running for 96 of those yards after the catch. Randall Cobb had 79 of his 128 yards come after the catch. That’s 175 yards after catch just between Cobb and Jones.
“That’s something that we pride ourselves on is yards after the catch,” Cobb said Sunday. “We did have a good game, but we can be better. We can do better, we can give more, we can do more. We made plays, but we’ve got to make bigger plays. We’ll continue to push for that.”
There isn’t much room for the Packers to do better than they did against Washington. Only five other teams have ever had more than 270 yards after catch in a single game. The New Orleans Saints had 281 yards after catch in a game last season, the Denver Broncos finished with 270 yards after catch in Week 1 this season, while the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2010 Minnesota Vikings and 2007 Detroit Lions also managed to reach that level in one game. But none of them had more than what Green Bay had Sunday.
“There’s not a recipe for it,” said receiver Jordy Nelson, who only had 11 yards after catch. “It’s just catching the ball and then making the first guy miss one way or another. Some people can juke ’em, some people stiff arm. Jermichael (Finley) is dropping his shoulder on ‘em, so (we’re) just trying to be competitive at it.”
There hasn’t been an added emphasis on this in Packers practices this year. According to McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements, it’s always been something that the team has emphasized.
“We’re just trying to coach it better and the players are doing a better job at it,” McCarthy said. “The timing of the throw and the routes are more in sync. It creates another half-yard of separation as opposed to when you’re not as in sync. So all those things factor in. We talk about extended plays, chart ‘em, practice ‘em, big-play opportunities. It’s part of our makeup as a football team, not just our offense.
“It’s where a lot of big plays are generated.”
Last season, STATS LLC had Green Bay ranked fourth in the NFL with 2,177 yards after catch. If the Packers continue at their current pace this season, they’d finish with 3,624 yards after catch. The all-time NFL record for a season is held by the 2011 New England Patriots with 2,704 yards after catch, so Green Bay — as unlikely as it may be — would break that by more 900 yards at this rate.
The Packers’ best yards-after-catch performer so far this season has been Finley. Of Finley’s 121 receiving yards in the first two games, 116 of them have been after the catch. That means YAC has accounted for a whopping 95.9 percent of Finley’s total receiving yards.
In Week 2, Finley broke four tackles, and that happened all in one play.
“I thought his play on the sideline was spectacular,” McCarthy said of Finley. “He’s just getting more and more comfortable. He’s stronger than he’s been. He’s just improving and that’s definitely an area he’s done a much better job in.”
With Green Bay’s receivers playing so well, Rodgers tied the franchise’s all-time single-game record for passing yards. But Rodgers recognized that he owed a ‘thank you’ to a few teammates.
“It was 480 yards, but how much of that was YAC?,” Rodgers said after the game. “Jermichael had an unbelievable play there, how many tackles he broke. James had a great day, obviously and a lot of yards after the catch. Randall, Jordy, so everybody got involved, everybody contributed.”