The tight ends meeting was in full swing when there was a knock at the door. Jermichael Finley had been summoned to the head coach’s office.
“It was, ‘Coach has got a surprise for you,’” the Green Bay Packers tight end recalled Friday, relating the story about a month after the fact. “I was like, ‘What? What’s going on?’”
Pause, for effect.
“Because when I go up there, it ain’t good.”
When Finley arrived at coach Mike McCarthy’s door, the boss was waiting for him.
“I walked in, and he said, ‘Sit down right here.’ You know how he talks,” Finley said. “He said, ‘Look at this.’”
McCarthy pushed play on his remote, and a video began.
FINLEY … THE BEAST the opening credit read, followed all six Aaron Rodgers passes that Finley caught in the Packers’ loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2009 NFC Wild Card Playoffs – a game in which Finley set a Packers franchise postseason record with 159 receiving yards in a 51-45 overtime defeat.
“It was revealing,” said McCarthy, who unexpectedly shared the behind-the-scenes story during Friday’s post-practice press briefing. “He was a bigger man then. Just the way he caught the ball in that game, compared to the opportunities he’s had this year, it was a good video for him to see on a number of different levels – from (his) confidence, (to) some technique things in there that him and I talked through.
“That was clearly one of the most dominant performances I’ve ever been a part of (by) a tight end in a game. I felt that he was a big part of the offensive success in that game and the confidence that Aaron had in him going to him in tight situations, what he did with the ball in his hands after he caught the ball, how he caught the ball.”
How he caught the ball. Finley said after the highlights from Arizona, the video continued with some more receptions – from this season. And the difference was striking.
“The playoff game of ’09 against Arizona, I was attacking the ball, not letting the ball get to my body,” Finley said. “I thought it was pretty sweet that he called me up (to his office to watch that). But it was also, ‘(Expletive), what happened? Where did it go?’ I’m the same person. I just don’t know where it went, man.”
On Sunday, when the Packers face the Cardinals in a meaningful game for the first time since that unforgettable postseason battle, Finley will try to recapture that form. He enters the game having caught 28 passes for 265 yards and one touchdown, including just two receptions in each of the past three games.
“Everybody has a coming-out game in the season, where they get comfortable and start rolling, and I’m hoping it’s this game once again,” Finley said. “They’ve got pretty much the same guys, so I have to play my type of ball.”
And that means catching the ball – something that is confounding considering how effortlessly Finley once did it.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Finley enters Sunday’s game having dropped seven passes. Only Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (eight) has dropped more in the NFL this season according to their grading system. Last year, they charged Finley with 12 drops, with Atlanta’s Roddy White (15), Cleveland’s Greg Little (14), Miami’s Brandon Marshall (14) and New England’s Wes Welker (13) having more.
Last season, Finley’s 12 drops came on 67 catchable balls, for a drop rate of 17.69 percent. This season, Finley’s seven drops have been on 35 catchable balls, a drop rate of 20 percent.
But in 2009, he dropped four of 59 catchable balls, a drop rate of 6.78 percent; in 2010, before his season-ending knee injury, he’d didn’t drop a single one of the 21 catchable balls he’d had thrown his way.
And that’s one of the things McCarthy’s video illustrated to Finley: That he’d become more of a body-catcher and stopped plucking the ball out of the air with his hands, as the best pass-catchers do.
“You go out and drop a couple when you know you can catch the ball, I mean, the next play you’re going to switch your hands up a couple times,” Finley admitted. “It’s a confidence thing, but I’ve got to get it back, get that swagger going again.”
In an effort to do that, Finley met with Rodgers last Saturday night for roughly 45 minutes at the team hotel before bed check, and vowed to do so not only this Saturday night but the night before every game the rest of the year. While it’s incumbent on Finley to take what Rodgers says and put it to use in the game, the fact that the two are getting together regularly can’t hurt.
“It’s (about) getting trust back from A-Rod,” Finley said of the meetings. “If I was the quarterback, I wouldn’t throw it to the guy who’s off-rhythm right now either. So I’ve got to get that trust back.
“The guy’s touching the ball 100 percent of the time. You’ve got to have that trust. That 30-, 45-minute meeting (on Saturday night), that shows a lot. And he just says, ‘How do you want the ball?’ I tell him, ‘It ain’t how I want it. You tell me what you want me to do.’”
What everyone wants Finley to do is regain his previous form. And while he said he doesn’t think about that 2009 playoff game often, it should serve as a reminder of how good he’s capable of being.
“I try to move away from it and you can’t live in the past, man,” Finley said. “That AZ game can’t do anything for me today. So I try not to think about it.”