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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates with wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling during the second half Sunday in Minneapolis.

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GREEN BAY — The Fox Sports cameras caught the Green Bay Packers’ sideline interaction just before halftime Sunday.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was on the visitors’ bench, getting high-fives and handshakes for his 45-yard touchdown reception with 14 seconds left in the first half — a grab that had pushed the Packers’ lead to 22-7 in what would end up being a 43-34 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at empty U.S. Bank Stadium in the teams’ 2020 season opener.

From the right side of the screen came the guy who’d thrown the pass, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Social distancing guidelines be damned, the two-time NFL MVP wrapped Valdes-Scantling in a bear hug (left arm around his back, right arm cradling MVS’s head) before delivering multiple congratulatory whacks to the third-year receiver’s shoulder pads.

“I love Marquez. He’s such a good-hearted kid,” Rodgers said after the game. “I think he really adds a lot to our locker room, and he wants it so badly. I think that’s the only thing that gets in his way sometimes. He just wants to make those plays so badly.”

Given how often NFL telecasts have seemed to show Rodgers’ angry, annoyed or disappointed on-field reactions to mental errors in the past, the moment — one that, in reality, isn’t as unusual as some of Rodgers’ detractors think — felt significant.

“I think it was just a hug,” Valdes-Scantling said in a Zoom video call. “I think he was just excited about the play for us to score a touchdown at the end of the half. To go out and make that play, to be able to bounce back and just go out and keep doing things well, I think that was just something that he was excited about and it was just a pure enjoyment thing for us both. I don’t think it was anything to get at the media or whatever. I think he was hugging me because I made a play.”

What was even more significant was what Rodgers would do later after Valdes-Scantling failed to make two plays.

To start the second half, Valdes-Scantling would follow that touchdown catch with two major gaffes — ending the Packers’ first possession of the third quarter by dropping an easy third-down across-the-middle ball that would have picked up a first down and taken the Packers into Minnesota territory, and dropping an exquisitely placed deep ball from Rodgers that would have been a 61-yard touchdown had Valdes-Scantling caught it on the first play of the Packers’ ensuing possession.

They were the kind of missed opportunities that can cost your team a victory in a closer game, and they were the kind of mistakes that led to Valdes-Scantling’s disappearance from the offense last season, when he caught just five passes for 36 yards on 19 targets in the final nine games. In the playoffs, coach Matt LaFleur had Valdes-Scantling on the field for just six total offensive snaps — and only one in the team’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

While Rodgers’ responses weren’t exactly we’ll-get-‘em-next-time facial expressions, he hardly looked irate. More importantly, five plays after the dropped would-be touchdown, Rodgers went back to Valdes-Scantling on a free play and hit him for a 39-yard gain down the right sideline, setting up a 1-yard Davante Adams touchdown catch.

“The thing that I noticed this training camp was he was catching the ball better,” Rodgers said. “I know that might sound like a strange statement for a receiver. (But) I think he was trusting his hands more, and he made a couple of catches with very strong hands the last week of training camp to give me a pretty good feeling about how he was going to perform (against the Vikings).

“He had a nice week of practice, and to be honest, it was never about, ‘I’ve got to go back to him after the drop.’ And that’s a tribute to him. I never thought twice about throwing him the ball down the seam or throwing him the go route at the end of the first half, and that’s a tribute to the way that he performed in training camp.

“Now he’s got to prove it every single week. We talked a lot about how consistency is the most important thing he needs to show. But I’m just really proud of him. I think he had the right mindset, and we’ve talked about how important visualizing those plays is and manifesting the things you want. I’m proud of his approach, and I’m proud of the way he played.”

Added Adams: “There was a lot of talk about how he was going to come into this year. But the way he responded, the way he came into camp, I mean, you heard it from Aaron, myself, coach LaFleur, he definitely showed a different type of focus this time around. I had a feeling that he was going to come and have a great start the way that he did. And I don’t put my name on just anybody.”

For his part, Valdes-Scantling knows that one game does not a season make. He even acknowledged he’ll probably drop more passes this season. It’ll be up to him to decide how he’ll respond, but with Rodgers’ and Adams’ support, Valdes-Scantling believes there’s nothing he can’t do.

“There’s no receiver in the history of the NFL that hasn’t dropped a ball. It’s going to happen,” he said. “You’ve just got to keep going to the next play and go make the next play. If your quarterback trusts you, he’ll keep throwing you the ball, and that’s what mine did. I had other opportunities to go out and make plays, and that’s what I did.

“If your quarterback believes in you and has trust in you, it says a lot for you. And then you have the best wide receiver in the NFL going to bat for you and saying you can play football at his level, at a high level. If he believes in me and my quarterback believes in me, I think sky’s the limit.“


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This article originally ran on madison.com.

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