DAVANTE ADAMS returned to Green Bay and then issued an order to Aaron Rodgers.
Throw it again, he remembers, shouting.
Aaron Jones remembers a more caring Adams that night in October 2017. In Jones’ version, Adams and Rogers both put on a sweater, each silently apologizing for the other. My mistake, they meant. But Rogers? He’s getting closer to Adams’ score. He smiles a little, remembering his instructions as a wide receiver. Throw it away. This. One more time.
He wasn’t the only one who wanted the ball, Rodgers says now, a few years and a few hundred passes to Adams later. But he wanted me to give it up a little more.
So forgive Adams for failing, because Rodgers clearly did, and because the Packers won 31-28 at JerryWorld and time was very tight. Then make it bigger. The most memorable play of this unforgettable evening shows how the best quarterback tandem of the season was forged.
On first-and-10 from the Dallas 12-yard line, Rodgers went down the left line to Adams. But he was deep inside, and the best Adams could do, in a tangle of limbs, was try to keep the ball away from his defender so it couldn’t be intercepted. But he wanted the ball again, but this time higher and out. Rodgers took it for the second shot. The Packers ran the ball left again with 16 seconds left, and this time Adams jumped up, hooked the ball, did a spin in the air and then landed both feet in the blue paint in the end zone for the touchdown. To celebrate, he threw a ball with so much mustard it could have hit Jerry Jones’ video camera in Texas if he had the courage to point it in that direction.
Error! The file name is not specified. Davante Adams is looking to build on his season record of 18 touchdown receptions on Saturday, when the Packers open their playoff series against the Rams. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s the moral of the story: Adams makes Rogers so terrifying that they find themselves on the verge of witchcraft, after which their witchcraft is demystified. We interview almost everyone who was on the ground that night. That’s what Jordy Nelson says. Jones, too. Rogers makes three.
Don’t ask Davante Adams.
REAL Adams doesn’t understand why many refer to his touchdown against Dallas that day as the Primera A, which makes his connection to Rodgers special and different, and, yes, a little scary. He told Aaron Rodgers, the former Super Bowl MVP, what to do! And Aaron Rodgers, the future wearer of the gold jacket, was listening!
There’s only one other track – on the same record, in fact – that he finds more emblematic of the offbeat, synchronized magic he’s been working with Rogers for years. Rewind the tape. Before the winning touchdown faded on the top and on the outside, before the missed connection faded on the bottom and on the inside, the Packers took the field again on their 25th anniversary and changed places for one more minute. The offense sat on the sideline for 8:43 minutes – nearly an eternity in regulation time – and saw the Cowboys go 79 yards from 17 plays to take the lead.
When he was on the field for the first time in a long time, Rodgers looked at Adams on the first play and then at the defender guarding him. Adams, a mind reader – or simply an unusually skilled interpreter of the defensive back’s views – got it. He looked at the DBs in a certain way, Adams says. He explains. At least he’s trying to explain it. I almost feel like I should say it’s a situation where I should throw the ball in the back like I did earlier in the game.
Adams, who was now fully aware (for whatever reason) of what Rogers meant (but didn’t say it), let himself go much wider than he normally would. And because he didn’t try to get back on the field as he was (apparently) instructed, Rodgers threw a perfect backhand that fell into Adams’ hands before the wide receiver made a half-turn, rushed for a few more yards and missed a first down attempt by 14 yards.
He and Rogers didn’t need mundane things like, say, words to talk to each other. No, his thoughts travel by osmosis, or at least by hyperconsciousness and by the knowledge that many years together give him. And that’s why Adams always puts this room on a pedestal, like everyone else but him.
I think that was a little more impressive than the nonverbal one, he says. See what he wants.
Error! The file name is not specified. Some Packers refer to this TD 2017 victory over the Cowboys as the embodiment of Davante Adams-Aron Rodgers’ magic, but Adams is referred to an earlier game on the same drive. Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
A vague and almost mystical aura takes over any conversation about the spirit Adams has managed to cultivate with Rogers since he arrived in Green Bay in 2014. It’s hard to explain, and you can’t understand it, and it happens a little bit, and, oh yeah, it’s hard to explain. Their connection without words, perhaps appropriately, seems to defy words. Or at least words that clarify a lot of things.
But that’s also the point. If only someone understood these dark arts, anyone could be a wizard. When Adams and Rogers emerge from the caucus, their inner thoughts remain conjoined, trapped, alone, and the only people who could plausibly know these inner thoughts are Adams and Rogers. For example, Jones will be in the field, hear a race in the caucus, and a few seconds later will see a completely different RPO.
They just nod their heads and something important happens, Jones says. They’re in each other’s heads.
But Jones is on the same field. He’s in the same situation. He saw the same nod. He has no idea what happened!
It’s not exactly the same game, he admits. I just know that something special is going to happen.
Error! The file name is not specified. Adams has an uncanny ability to memorize plays from almost every stage of his career, but he also spent a lot of time studying Aaron Rodgers and observing his body language. Dylan Buell/Getty Images
It stands to reason that no one but Adams, except maybe Rodgers, would remember a visually unattractive and otherwise ordinary three-year baseball game against Dallas in week five. Adams and Rodgers had touchdowns (numerous; Adams scored 18 goals in 2020, breaking the franchise record), touchdowns (also numerous; 115 that year, breaking the franchise record) and memes (Rodgers stunned face after Adams caught a pass with one hand while the defender ripped his glove off with the other). He hides this language in secret, spoken and understood by two and unintelligible to the rest of the fools. To teammates like Aaron Jones. Former teammates like Jordy Nelson, who also spoke to Rodgers in his native tongue.
Adams spent the formative years of his NFL career – the first four seasons – watching Jordy and Aaron’s show and digesting how Nelson, one of Green Bay’s first readers, could communicate with Rodgers without talking as he became an extension of Rodgers, as if Rodgers had sprouted a third, foreign but useful hand. (And what a show it was.) Nelson and Rodgers were Green Bay’s second-best duo with 469 takes – until Adams came along and eclipsed them, as did Rodgers’ Brett Favre-Donald Driver connection (486), with a franchise record of 498 takes – and that’s not all – from Rodgers.
Finally, they were so confused that the line between Rogers and Nelson began to blur when young receivers asked Rogers a question – what was he thinking? Which way would he go? — Rogers passed it on to Nelson because he wanted Nelson’s opinion, and then offered him a quick confirmation: Yeah, what he said. Adams saw it, he saw that Nelson could make a mistake once – he kept running in the zone, for example, and Rodgers threw the ball around assuming Nelson had stopped – and never made that mistake again without saying a word to Rodgers himself.
Basically, he saw how Rodgers reacted to Nelson in moments like that. Rogers’ ears pricked up. His body language has changed. So Adams threw it away to use it again, then returned to the cause to find his place in this league as a young catcher. Especially since he was a young catcher who was – spoiler alert – not that good.
Adams hasn’t become Rogers’ best friend forever or anything. There was no loss of confidence. No heartbreaking confessions late at night, a crackling campfire in the distance. (Honestly, I don’t think they spend much time together off the field, said Green Bay’s other wide receiver, Marquez Valdez-Scantling).
It wasn’t necessary, Adams learned. Nelson and Rogers seemed like identical twins with a cosmic connection, but their bromance was always a little too dramatic. It’s going to confuse some people, but I’ve never had a glass of whiskey with him, Nelson says. I played golf with him. We were eating. But it’s not like we go out every Thursday night.
So Adams and Rodgers didn’t have to be at the hip. They just had to think like they are. So Adams did the mundane and tedious work of watching Rogers, listening to Rogers, and memorizing what Rogers did and said. How do you remember the walk? It’s muscle memory. So it was with Rogers’ reading.
We can go back to the 2015 game and he’ll say he runs like you once did when he was third-and-10 and you had a stutter, Adams said. And I know exactly what he’s talking about.
We all do.
In other words: They have the most picturesque wedding in the world. The blessed one who is done with someone else’s grief cannot do without the other unions. And the road to Super Bowl LV this year goes through Lambeau – first the Rams – as Adams and Rodgers play their best and most coordinated football duo yet.
A FULL TRANSPARENCY WARNING: Adams and Rodgers did not meet at Lambeau Field, and they had no instinctive connection. Adams did not parachute from the Bay Area to Green Bay, nor did he reveal the secrets of Aaron Rodgers’ prodigious mind. No, for a time their partnership was so unsuccessful that Adams went down in the world on the other side of the NFL coffers.
His mother, Pamela Brown, avoids the advice of anyone who has been on social media and actually reads the comments section. In Adams’ second year in the league, she came across a tweet from a Green Bay fan calling her son the worst receiver in the NFL. Brown replied (I walked in and said a lot of things I probably shouldn’t), and a few hours later she got a text message from Adams : Mama. That was the last time she was engaged to the Haters.
But if the discussion of the bust was premature, it was at least based on a well-deserved concern. Adams wasn’t very good. Actually, he was pretty bad.
He said it was just… The show is everywhere.
Adams spent most of 2015 playing on his ankle, which is not ideal for a receiver, especially someone like him who relies on misdirection and taking his feet out of his image. But his arms were also broken, though unharmed. He has thrown six of his 92 passes this season, ranking seventh in the championship. Pro Football Focus ranked him 118th out of 119 receivers who played at least 25% of their team’s assists. (In retrospect, Green Bay’s Twitter users weren’t wrong). Overall, Adams and Rodgers have made 57.2% of their attempts as long-range receivers in their first two seasons.
Rogers, Adams says, is the one who made the cars spin around him and helped him regain his balance when the ground shook beneath him. Rodgers leaving the hands of Davante Adams, the best player in the world, makes perfect sense. Rodgers, in no particular order this season: said he has reached similar heights to Jordy Nelson in combination with Adams, proclaimed that Adams is dominant at the level of Charles Woodson, and was pleased that Adams complements him. It makes me feel better, Rogers said last month. As a person and as a quarterback.
Error! The file name is not specified. Adams prides himself on the defensive backs working on every play, and the result is often a big hole. AP Photo/Jim Mone
If Rodgers feels like a star these days, that has something to do with it: Adams finished the year with four games in which he recorded 10 receptions, 100 yards and two touchdowns – an NFL record for a season. Meanwhile, Adams and Rogers are connecting. And connects, and connects. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Adams had 63 more receptions than any other Packer in 2020, the largest gap between the team’s top two receivers; he was targeted on 34% of his runs, the highest number among wide receivers since 2012; Rodgers and Adams logged on 76.7% of their attempts this season, the second highest total in the past 20 years among quarterback duos with at least 150 attempts. This isn’t the first duo to achieve breathtaking synergy (notably Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison), but they do reach similar heights.
Ask those around Adams – his coaches, teammates, former teammates – what sets Adams apart from other receivers in this league, aside from his ESP with Rodgers, and they’ll tell you it’s LITERALLY separation. His ability to create space from the defender, his ability to open up: That’s all I’m saying. The. Time.
Here lies a man who never took a break, Adams plants the headstone of his future career. Every time I choose a path, I take it a million percent seriously. I will try to abuse you at every step.
To answer the obvious: These are athletes who are exceptional at what they do. They’ll be fine, in or out. Adams would have come off the line anyway, as would several other receivers in the league. What about the famous Rogers brain? Does he need someone on his level?
He doesn’t need it, Nelson says. It’s Aaron Rodgers, he doesn’t say. Of course he doesn’t need it. But it makes life so much easier, he adds.
The fact is, according to Adams, these two are the ones who have the connection. Wouldn’t it be great without him? Yes, of course. Would they have left the tank uninhabited otherwise? Yes, of course.
He’s the best quarterback in the NFL and I’m the best receiver in the NFL, Adams said. And the way we scream, I don’t think anyone else does it the way we do.
Error! The file name is not specified. 1 A9 Adams hasn’t always been as confident as he is now, and he says Rodgers has supported him through an eventful 2015 season. AP Photo/Leon Khalip
LONG AFTER ADAMS Rodgers was able to read at a glance or dust off his quarterback for a year, raving about it, his preschoolers offered a plausible – in retrospect – explanation for why he still does mental gymnastics brilliantly.
He has a photographic memory, the kids at Bing Kindergarten in Stanford told Brown about their 5-year-old son. Everything he read, he remembered.
Maybe it goes back to photographic memory, Brown says, trying to guess how Adams achieved the same brain disorder as Rogers. When he teaches someone, he remembers everything. I think he’s studying it.
In fact, he had been playing for almost as long as he had. He convinced his mother to let him play football when he was about 10, thanks to peer pressure. One day Adams called Brown from his after-school program and asked him to join his friend Pop Warner’s law firm; the friend’s father drove him home with an application for league membership. Despite many reservations (Davante, you’re too fragile, you’ll be destroyed there; Davante, I can’t even afford the cleats), she accepted. Initially, their reservations were refuted: Adams promised that if he ever cried, she would have his blessing to take him out of football altogether, with his friend’s father offering him tokens for accents like cleats. Brown, on the other hand, decided that the surest way to save his son from the pitfalls of Palo Alto East was to devote him to the sport full-time. Their town was small, but it was hard to get higher. In 1992, the same year Adams was born, East Palo Alto recorded more murders per capita than any other city in the United States.
Much of the talent comes from East Palo Alto, said Josh Harper, Adams’ former Fresno State teammate who grew up near Union City, Calif. But there’s also a lot of talent that can’t get out there.
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So Brown submitted to Adams’ new fascination with football, fragility, and more. He’s always been like his father’s family, Brown says. My family, we have meat on our bones. His father’s family, they are tall and skinny). And she healed him through the broken bones in his left arm, which had been broken three times in the same place – twice during a football game, once during a basketball game – and then had him walk on the field while his arm healed to keep him active.
He left football for a while because of this heavy and still fragile limb, but football never really left him. Jake Halas, the coach of the Palo Alto High football team when Adams was in ninth grade, remembers Adams’ long training to throw the ball to him with a good arm. Sometimes he’d hide when Halas was preparing the team for the day, and the coach would find out who the man was, but still let him poke around while the other recruits knelt and listened to Halas pontificate on the football facts of the day.
Adams eventually returned to the game, officially, as a junior in high school – not only late in recruiting for Wild West college football, but he almost never showed up. This late comeback created a domino that hit another domino, making Adams late to the party with each new twist.
He was a largely unknown wide receiver at Palo Alto High School and received a total of two college football scholarships, the second of which was awarded to him by Fresno State only because the school ventured north to scout Adam’s speedy wide receiver counterpart. I was a one-star rookie, Adams once joked.
So he went to Fresno State, but didn’t become a redshirt until 2011. Soon after, he was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2012 and in 2013, his second year in the redshirt, he totaled 1,718 yards touchdowns, which was a Fresno state record, and 24 touchdowns, the most in the nation that year. But Fresno State is not Ohio State, Alabama State or Clemson State. That spring, at his mother’s house, he watched the first round of the 2014 selection take place without his name, leaving the family in the dark the next day. His view of things: It will be everyone’s funeral and ultimately they will be the ones paying for it.
This despite the fact that 31 other teams didn’t realize it was their funeral until five or six, even seven years after their deaths. When the Packers finally drafted Adams in the second round, they paired him with a quarterback who also knew the bite of the draft, and landed a wide receiver who had done in the past exactly what he would do in a few years in Lambeau.
He got to Paley late, but quickly. He began a relationship with the high school quarterback, and Christophe Bono still remembers his conversation with Adams after practice about what Bono saw as a passer and Adams as a receiver, two people who were determined to combine these visions. Adams repeated the effort at Fresno State, where he became Derek Carr’s favorite roommate for outdoor games, and his brain splitter quickly changed hands.
Derek would look at Tay, give him that little eye contact, and he would know exactly what to do, Harper says.
The soundtrack to Adams’ career is an eye-catching worm song: He knew exactly what had to be done. Take a look. With a nod. Nothing at all.
Once with Bono? It’s a little neat. Twice. With Carr? Coincidence. Three times, with Rogers? Here’s the full picture.
Error! The file name is not specified. Adams was used as a receiver as Rodgers became the seventh quarterback in NFL history to throw 400 touchdown passes. AP Photo/Famous Gash
SINCE DECEMBER, Rodgers stood behind the line of scrimmage, in the shade, less than 10 yards from the Philadelphia end zone. Placol responded, and Adams didn’t even expect the ball, but receiver Allen Lazard moved to the right, took out the Eagles’ defense and left just one man – Darius Sly, who stepped back a few yards – to cover Adams on the left side.
Adams saw it all – the movement, the retreat – and thought it might be good for us, and you know that: His quarterback had the same attitude.
Rogers shot down the plane instead of shooting Adams. Another exchange (without words), another touchdown – the 400th in Rodgers’ career.
It is quite possible that this milestone was reached by the brute force of Adams and not by the quick thinking of Rogers. Once Rodgers released the ball, Adams had to run 9 yards up the sideline with a defender stretched over him like a cape. But that can happen when you play with a member of the Hall of Famer, especially a quarterback of the Hall of Fame, especially a quarterback of the Hall of Fame in Green Bay. He’s blowing out the sun.
It’s always what a great throw by Rogers! says Valdez-Scantling. What a great catch by Davante! It’s a gift and a curse.
His confession is accompanied by numerous footnotes, pearls of clarification that he is VERY CONFIDENTIAL of the ROARS OF AARON. He couldn’t have asked for a better quarterback. This is a problem of the first order. But this is the reality that has now transferred to the Lambo.
It’s definitely a thing, Adams said. It’s not that hard for me. This is just one of the risks you take when a member of the Hall of Fame throws the ball to you.
If the prevailing wisdom, as Nelson points out, is that Rodgers can make any wide receiver look like a Pro Bowler, then depending on the receiver, he could be liable for the overdue amount. It will take a year like 2020 to permanently and irrevocably pierce the public consciousness. This is despite the fact that he has averaged over 1,000 yards per season since 2016. Even though this receiver is just as good a bowling pro, not only because of the way he works with Rodgers, but because of the way he works with Rodgers.
After entering the end zone, Adams found his quarterback, knelt down and gave him the ball of the game to honor him. Rodgers laughed at the gesture and told his wide receiver to get up.
He wanted Adams on his level.