Packers' Rodgers praises, prods Finley after 3 TDs
Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley is good. Darn good.
Aaron Rodgers is pushing him to be great.
After Finley caught three touchdowns Sunday in a 27-17 victory over division rival Chicago at Soldier Field, Rodgers praised his big, athletic tight end - but not unconditionally.
Rodgers also pointed out that Finley made some mental mistakes, an indication that Rodgers is holding Finley to a high standard going into the Packers' game Sunday against Denver at Lambeau Field.
''I think the mental mistakes are the ones that I believe can be cured through preparation,'' Rodgers said Wednesday. ''And as gifted and talented as that boy is - and he's an incredibly talented man, the big fellow - I think he needs to tighten it up a little bit with some of the mental mistakes.''
Having said that, Rodgers also acknowledged that Finley can score even on plays where he doesn't quite get his assignment right.
''You have to kind of understand, you're dealing with an extremely gifted player,'' Rodgers said. ''So we're talking about one or two plays. But I think he can be great, and I wouldn't be saying that if I didn't believe he could be one of the greatest tight ends to ever line it up.''
He certainly appeared to be against the Bears.
Finley caught seven passes for 85 yards and scored three times against a Chicago defense that had to know what was coming but simply couldn't stop it, especially with injuries in the secondary.
Asked after the game if he's essentially impossible to cover one-on-one, Finley - a player not typically known for his modesty - didn't hold back.
''You see it as well as I do out there,'' Finley said. ''The film answers the question for itself.''
Finley's big day was one of several standout tight end performances across the NFL in the first three weeks of the season. Of the 11 players with three or more touchdowns receiving, four are tight ends: New England's Rob Gronkowski (5 TDs), Buffalo's Scott Chandler (4), Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez (3) and Finley (3).
Brandon Pettigrew had 11 catches for 112 yards in Detroit's win at Minnesota on Sunday. Carolina's duo of Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, Dallas' Jason Witten, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, the New York Jets' Dustin Keller, Washington's Fred Davis and San Francisco's Vernon Davis are among the tight ends making major contributions to their teams' offenses.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said that as more athletic tight ends come into the league, offensive coaches are putting more effort into forcing, then exploiting, tight end matchups against linebackers.
''You've seen the last couple of years when we've played against good tight ends, you've seen Charles (Woodson) in there matching up because we just didn't want to give them an advantage,'' Capers said. ''Over the past couple of years that's worked well for us against the top receiving tight ends.''
But even amid a new generation of athletic tight ends, Finley stands out. It's not every day that an opposing defense comes up against a 6-foot-5, 247-pound player who runs and cuts like a wide receiver.
''Regardless of how you want to play him, if we're running the ball effectively, like we were on Sunday, you have to think at some point he's going to get a one-on-one opportunity,'' Rodgers said. ''And that goes for everybody we've got split out wide. And at some point in the game, you're going to have to win that one-on-one battle. And the guys who win the one-on-one battles the most are getting the ball.''
But Rodgers says Finley could be in better position to get in, and win, those matchups if he puts more work into his preparation. After Sunday's game, Rodgers said Finley ''might not have been doing the right thing'' on a couple of plays, and ''the more he studies, the more he's going to get the ball.''
Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin also has asked more of Finley, saying recently that he wants the team's third-round draft pick out of Texas in 2008 to round out his game by becoming a better blocker.
Finley also needs to stay healthy. He played in 32 regular-season games in his first three years, missing most of last season with a knee injury.
He missed the Packers' run through the playoffs to the Super Bowl, and admits he thought about the NFC Championship game when he was at Soldier Field on Sunday.
''I was going to come out pretty hyped,'' Finley said. ''My goal was just to go out there and catch every ball thrown to me. And I guess, like I say: Look at the film, that's what I did.''
Now he's all the way back from injury, and says he's just getting started.
''I put the work in the offseason, and I guess it's paying off now,'' Finley said. ''This is just the beginning, but I'm pretty happy about it.''
Connect with AP Sports Writer Chris Jenkins: www.twitter.com/ByChrisJenkins