GREEN BAY – All eyes, naturally, were on Aaron Rodgers as he lay on the turf at Lambeau Field two weeks ago. But just prior to injuring his calf, which briefly forced him from the game against Detroit in the Green Bay Packers’ regular-season ending victory, Rodgers’ brief scramble in the pocket created chaos in the Lions end zone.
Randall Cobb moved as Rodgers did, and the quarterback found his 5-foot, 10-inch receiver for a score before falling to the ground in pain.
It was a 4-yard touchdown, Cobb’s 11th of the year, which added to his career high total.
Later, Cobb caught another red zone touchdown from Rodgers when the quarterback returned in the third quarter.
Of all the skills the fourth-year wide receiver possesses, his knack for finding space in the red zone (and the end zone) became perhaps his most surprising trait.
But, as his nature, Cobb shrugged off his success inside the 20.
"It just depends on the situation," he said. "It depends on if it’s a set play call or once we go into scramble mode then it becomes (finding) the open part of the field and getting in the QB’s vision."
"I think it’s kind of how things worked out. Plays get called in the red zone and we run ‘em, or we check to something. Sometimes I’m the first read, sometimes I’m not, sometimes it’s a scramble drill and I find a way to get open. It’s been different cases in all the different touchdowns."
The Packers have scored 37 touchdowns in 64 trips into the red zone during the regular season, No. 4 in the league, and tied for fifth in the league with 24 passing scores inside the 20.
Ten of those went to Cobb, who led the league – topping tight ends Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas. The only other wide receiver to crack that list was Miami’s Mike Wallace.
"The windows are really tight down there so you have to be accurate and put the ball in the right spot on time and Randall does a good job of creating space down there and he’s done a good job of getting open," Rodgers said. "We’ve hit some tight throws and he’s also made some really quick moves at the line of scrimmage and we’ve hit some kind of more wide open throws as well."
Of those 10 touchdowns inside the red zone, only two came from 10 yards out or more, including his final 13-yard score against the Lions two weeks ago.
Cobb also finished third in the league in red zone receptions with 16.
This role was new for the fourth-year receiver. In Cobb’s previous 13 receiving touchdowns, only four came inside the red zone.
"He’s quick guy," Rodgers said. "He’s great against man coverage because he’s so elusive with his wiggles at the line of scrimmage and he does a good job at the top of his route not telegraphing anything, and we just gotta keep finding ways to get the ball in space."
Even though Cobb’s success in the red zone may be a surprise, his season-ending totals of 91 catches for 1,287 yards weren’t.
Two seasons ago, he caught 80 of his 104 targets and last year, Rodgers targeted him 47 times in the six games Cobb played.
So, in playing in 16 games, Cobb was targeted 127 times to combine with Jordy Nelson to became the first tandem in league history to record more than 90 receptions, 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns in the same season.
The pair also became the third set of teammates in NFL history with at least 1,200 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in the same season (Cris Carter and Randy Moss, Minnesota, 1999; Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, Denver, 2013).
"It’s unbelievable," Cobb said. "We’ve been blessed with an opportunity and we’ve been able to capitalize in different areas. Records are made to be broken, and it’s great to have a record when you think about this franchise and so many guys that’s come before you. It’s an honor just to be mentioned with some of the names that we’re mentioned with. It’s been great playing here with Jordy and being able to accomplish so much."
The Packers also used Cobb out of the backfield in key situations to loosen up the offense at times, notably against New England on Nov. 30. He rushed the ball a career high 11 times for 37 yards to set a career-high in yards from scrimmage with 1,324.
He also relieved Micah Hyde on punt returns on occasion, returning 14 for 112 yards. He received one kickoff this year, but did not return it.
Now, Cobb has his sights set on the one thing he hasn’t accomplished yet as a Packer: the Super Bowl.
He said while he may have been trying to do too much early in the year, he has since settled back into his routine and that as he nears unrestricted free agency (he said his contract expires in March) reaching the biggest game of his profession is the only thing left on his sizable list to "do" – even if he doesn’t feel he’s ever doing it quite good enough.
"I am my biggest critic. I’ve always been my biggest critic. I will always be my biggest critic," he said. "So, you know, I still don’t think I’ve earned what I’m trying to be. And, I’ve still got a lot of work to do. So I’m just taking it day by day and doing the best that I can to be the best I can be for this team."
And as for whether one 90-catch, 1,000-yard, 12-touchdown season, on top of his record-setting all-purpose season of 2012, proves his value is in the top five or 10 of the league, he smiles.
"That’s a question for you. Am I? I don’t know," he said. "I’m trying to be the best Randall I can be. I don’t know what that means, but I’m trying to be the best I can be. I’ll let everybody else decide on that."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.