Nelson is just solid ... that's all

BY Alex Marvez • November 20, 2011

Jordy Nelson’s most productive game of the season helped the undefeated Green Bay Packers avoid an upset loss to Tampa Bay. He had six receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns, including the 40-yard score that sealed a 35-26 victory with 2:55 remaining.

And by the way, Nelson is white!

This is written tongue-in-cheek, but comments last week from several prominent Green Bay players, a Packers assistant coach and even Nelson himself make mention of this fact necessary. They were the ones who threw a reverse race card on the table.

The gist of what was claimed: Nelson’s success stems partially from being underestimated by opposing defensive backs because he is a blond-haired, crew-cut wearing, All-American looking Caucasian at a position played predominantly by African-Americans. Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings told the Green Bay Post-Gazette that “guys look at (Nelson) and say, ‘He’s the white guy. He can’t be that good.'”

The media attention that followed made Nelson quickly realize he made a huge mistake by agreeing with such sentiment in the newspaper’s story.

“I think when you deal with race or anything like that it’s uncomfortable, especially for myself,” Nelson said after the post-game media crowd had thinned around his locker inside Lambeau Field. “It’s something we’ve discussed in the locker room as receivers. I hope it didn’t offend anyone. I don’t want to be in the spotlight and that kind of put me out there.”

Nelson is right. The fallout from this made nobody look good.

Nelson’s teammates weren’t trying to slight him. But proclaiming that he was being underestimated because of race — and Nelson buying in — does just that. It diminishes the fact that Nelson is one of the league’s most dangerous deep threats with three touchdown catches of 50-plus yards. Receivers of every color, creed or religion would be lucky to have his size (6-foot-3 and 217 pounds), strength, athletic tools and upside.

If opposing cornerbacks are stupid enough to underestimate him simply because he is white —  like Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt claimed some Chicago Bears defensive backs told Nelson before last season’s NFC Championship Game — it’s their own fault.

Besides, it’s hard to see how Nelson can be overlooked at this point. He has emerged as quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target in Green Bay’s past three games with 16 catches for 291 yards and five touchdowns.

The two have built upon the chemistry that led to Rodgers connecting with Nelson on nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in last season’s Super Bowl XLV win over Pittsburgh. Nelson has since become more consistent — he dropped three passes in that title game — but is admittedly still learning in his fourth NFL season since he didn’t begin playing wideout until converting from safety as a walk-on sophomore at Kansas State.

Nelson points to misreading Rodgers on his second touchdown catch. Nelson looked back and thought Rodgers would be making a back-shoulder, jump ball-style throw down the Packers sideline. Fortunately for Nelson, so did Bucs cornerback Myron Lewis. Nelson adjusted and caught the 40-yard pass in stride while leaving Lewis behind, ensuring the Packers would improve to 10-0.

“I slowed down a little to gather myself to get ready to jump,” Nelson said. “When it came out of (Rodgers’) hand, I was like, ‘Uhh, that kind of took off.’ That little hesitation did help. The DB thought it was going to be the back-shoulder.

“It’s a play we practiced and worked on all week. When teams come up to bump-and-run, we’ve got to do different things to back them off. It’s something we’ve always had in our playbook. We just pulled it out at that point and time in the game.”

The Bucs (4-6) can’t say color had anything to do with Nelson’s performance. He admits several Tampa Bay cornerbacks and a game official joked before kickoff that “no one is underestimating you.”

Asked if that matters to him, Nelson said, “I don’t care. If someone underestimates you, it’s better. But everyone in this league does a job. They watch film. They see what they see. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, grinding and trying to get better. I’ve got multiple things to work on.”

Among them: Making sure to never bite when asked about the race topic again unless he wants the attention that will come with it.

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