SANTA CLARA, Calif. – After seeing his top receiver lying motionless on the field inside Levi’s Stadium for a few frightening moments, Aaron Rodgers finally got a thumbs-up from Davante Adams.
Only then was the Green Bay Packers quarterback able to exhale. At least, Rodgers thought midway through Sunday night’s fourth quarter, Adams was OK after receiving a brutal blow from San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward. He approached Adams, who was still on the ground, as the Packers’ medical staff swarmed.
“He gave me a thumbs-up,” Rodgers said. “To me, that seemed like, ‘I’d just got knocked out, and I’m fine.’ I didn’t realize he just had a hard time breathing, and it was nothing to the head.”
Rodgers figured Adams would be done for the night, because with how the NFL treats such devastating hits these days, that’s the way it usually goes. So the MVP went back to his business on the field without the receiver that tends to be his first, second and third read.
Then he saw Adams running back onto the field from the sideline one snap later.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Rodgers said.
On a night of stunning moments, the Packers pulling off a 30-28 comeback victory on a 42-yard drive with 37 seconds left and no timeouts, nothing was more unexpected than Adams returning to the game after missing only one play.
Rodgers hoped Adams, more than most, would have an expedited recovery. In an early-season game against the Chicago Bears four years ago — almost to the day — Adams was knocked out on what looked like a similar, running-start hit from linebacker Danny Trevathan. Adams spent that night in a Green Bay hospital, but played in the Packers’ next game 10 days later at the Dallas Cowboys.
So there was optimism Adams might return sooner than later, no matter how scary the scene looked as he initially laid motionless on the field. But one play? That seemed nothing short of miraculous. Adams confirmed he was evaluated for a concussion, ducking into the blue medical tent on the Packers’ sideline.
“That’s what I went into the tent for,” Adams said. “It was pretty apparent to them right away (there was no concussion). I think me being down is what had them kind of worried at the beginning. Once they came over and were talking to me, they went through all the protocol on the field, and I came off and went into the tent.
“I was ready to go off the sideline, and they said I had to go into the tent, check me out. So I went in there, knocked that out and went back out.”
Adams didn’t just return to the game. The Packers don’t complete their frantic comeback without him. Adams caught both of Rodgers’ completions on the game-winning drive that set up Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal, recording all 42 yards. The pair of catches gave Adams a dozen receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown, his third straight game with at least 130 yards against the 49ers dating to the 2019 NFC championship game.
In the Packers’ opening blowout loss against the New Orleans Saints, Adams was limited to five catches for 56 yards. He has since combined to catch 20 passes for 253 yards in his past two games against the 49ers and Detroit Lions. He enters Week 4 tied with Los Angeles Rams wideout Cooper Kupp for the NFL lead with 25 receptions and is fourth in the league with 309 yards.
Of course, it’s one thing to put up numbers. It’s another to overcome the type of shot Adams took from Ward, return after one play, and deliver a victory. On the field, teammates pleaded with referee Jerome Boger’s crew to throw a penalty flag. Rodgers first approached the back judge, then Ward, believing it was a helmet-to-helmet hit.
“I was wondering who hit my guy,” Rodgers said. “That was the extent of the conversation.”
Ward had a running start before smashing into Adams deep down the middle of the field, sprinting from the other side before launching into Adams like a missile. The hit forced an incomplete pass. It was also the type of ugly shot the NFL has all but banned in its effort to make the game safer.
As such, the lack of a penalty was initial surprising.
“I know how to hit pretty good,” Ward said. “I led with my shoulder. There was no flag. I always lead with my shoulder. I’ve got to watch the hit, but bang-bang play. I’m glad there was no flag. Shout out to the ref.”
Replay showed Ward indeed led with his shoulder, not his helmet. He did not contact Adams’ head, key to the receiver returning so quickly.
Adams never lost consciousness on the field, only lying motionless because he was trying to regain his breath after the wind was knocked out of him. He left with a chest, not head, injury. Coach Matt LaFleur checked on his receiver on the field.
It was quickly apparent, LaFleur said, that Adams would have a chance to return.
“I went out there to check on him,” LaFleur said, “and it seemed like he was just working on his breathing. So I thought there was maybe a chance. It happened quickly when he popped back in there. It kind of surprised me how fast it was, but I think he was taking his time on the ground to allow that to happen. I was more surprised, from what I saw, I thought there was a hit to the helmet. But, apparently, there wasn’t.”
It is somewhat ironic a clean hit from Ward enabled Adams to return, which ultimately flipped the game for the Packers. That Adams got open not once but twice on the final drive was surprising enough, given how much attention opposing defenses give him.
To do it after lying there motionless on the field added to an unforgettable night.
“How I was able to get through it,” Adams said, “is I’m different. That’s probably the main thing. I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff like that, and just the mental toughness to get in there and know it wasn’t a concussion. So I went on the sideline. They evaluated and saw right away I was straight.
“More than anything on the ground, it was my chest. I was having trouble catching my breath, but I’m definitely good.”