|Jermichael Finley has 12 catches in Green Bay's past three games. (US Presswire)|
It hasn't been the sort of 2012 that Jermichael Finley had hoped to have.
Signed to a team-friendly two-year contract in the offseason, Finley was looking to put up the kind of Gronkowski-like season that would force the Packers -- or another team -- to shell out a big-money contract.
Instead, he's had to battle just to remain a relevant piece of the offense.
Finley's had more than his usual share of controversial moments, mostly revolving around his chemistry with QB Aaron Rodgers. Early in the season, Finley's agent called out Rodgers' leadership, a slight with which Finley adamantly denied involvement.
Regardless, the brash, fifth-year tight end has issued his own eyebrow-raising public comments about Rodgers and about his limited involvement in the passing offense. That reduced role could have had something to with Finley's own concentration lapses and dropped passes.
Whatever the case, heading into Green Bay's Week 10 bye, Finley had only 29 catches (on 47 targets) for 271 yards and one touchdown. He was but a decoy, if that, in the offense, a talented diversion to the rest of the Packers' playmakers.
Then, after the bye, Finley's potential began to poke its head out. With increased opportunities and renewed trust -- he said he and Rodgers were meeting for an extended period of time the night before games -- Finley's production started to increase.
Against the Lions, he caught three passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. Against the Giants, he caught three more for 51 yards, exploiting the middle of the field in New York's Cover-2 as one of the only viable receiving options. And, in last week's win over the Vikings, Finley had six receptions for 60 yards. Over the three games, Finley caught 12 of the 15 passes thrown to him with zero drops.
On Wednesday, Finley said he's feeling more confident than ever, with himself -- as evidenced by his continuing grandstanding celebrations on first-down catches -- and with Rodgers.
“I'm getting comfortable,” Finley said. “(Rodgers has) his confidence back in me, and I'm feeling great on the field and going out there with a clear mind ready to play ball."
Rodgers seconded the refurbished relationship and said Finley's emergence the past few games has taken a load off of a depleted receiving corps.
“I think Jermichael's played very well the past couple weeks,” Rodgers said. “And having him increase his production, me giving him more opportunities, has really helped our offense in the loss of” receivers such as Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.
Finley was asked if he believes more strong performances from him down the stretch will not only help the Packers' playoff push but also make up for some of his early-season struggles.
“Oh hands down. Good football erases a lot of things. Especially in the NFL,” he said. “One game, you do bad and you're on the bottom of the world. Next game, you do good you're on top. You've just got to take it for what it is.”
Crosby has to make kicks: Against the Vikings, K Mason Crosby made three of four field goals, including two in the fourth quarter. He also missed a 53-yarder just before halftime, a kick he and his coach said he has to make.
“Mason missing that field goal was a letdown going into the locker room,” McCarthy said. “I'm not changing, I'm not wavering on Mason,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He needs to make kicks. He needs to make the long kick. I expect him to make that kick before the half.”
Coming into the game, Crosby was mired in the worst slump of his career and he's still ranked last in the NFL in field goal percentage at 62.5. But McCarthy said the Packers are sticking with him.
“Once again, we're just going to keep swinging because we're going to need Mason to make big kicks down the stretch here,” McCarthy said. “We're in the fourth quarter of our season, and he'll be a big part of our success.”
Lions tame in Green Bay: The Packers have won the past 20 games against the Lions in Green Bay, dating back to 1991. It's hard to understand exactly why the Packers have exerted such dominance at home in the rivalry, so we'll just let some players try to explain it.
“It's just one of those things,” Rodgers said. “We've been able to squeak out some victories -- they haven't all been pretty, at least the four that I've been a part of. They're always really competitive games and, for whatever reason, we've come out on the right side the last 20 or so times.”
Finley was less circumspect about the reason for the one-sidedness, saying it was a difference of talent.
“I can't tell you about 20 years (ago),” he said. “Since I've been here, I guess it's come down to the players on the field. I couldn't tell you nothing else. It's still the game of football, it's not rocket science.”
WR Donald Driver, who, after 14 seasons as a Packer, is still half a dozen years short of the last Lions win in Green Bay, said it's never a gimme game.
“I don't know what it is, I guess we just have their number,” Driver said. “It's always been a fight. Even the year they were 0-15 and they came in here, the last game of the season, they came in here and took us all the way down to the wire.
“So I think it's going to continue to be a fight. We just can't let up. We've got to continue to play the way we have all season long.”
Follow Packers reporter James Carlton on Twitter: @CBSPackers.