J-Mike unstoppable in Chicago, hat trick leads Packers to win
By Lori Nickel, Journal-Sentinel
~Chicago – As linebacker Clay Matthews headed out of the locker room Sunday, he nodded in approval at Green Bay Packers teammate Jermichael Finley.
“J-Mike’s on my fantasy team. Probably got me 30 points today!” Matthews hollered.
It was truly that kind of breakout day for the 24-year-old, fourth-year tight end.
Finley collected three touchdown catches for the first time in his life at any level, and his efforts helped lead the Packers past the Bears, 27-17, to push the defending Super Bowl champions to a 3-0 start.
Finley is only the second tight end in team history to score three times in a game; the other was Keith Jackson on Sept. 1, 1996, at Tampa Bay.
But what was so impressive was that Finley sometimes made it look ridiculously easy, towering over the Chicago secondary and diving at the goal line to scoop up passes with his large hands.
For Finley, this was less about a comeback story after missing most of last year with a knee injury and a lot more about living up to his increasingly high standards. He talks about it all the time with his popular YOTTO claim on Twitter – Year of the Take Over – and worked toward it every day through his rehabilitation and the lockout.
“I’m proud of him, I really am,” said receiver Greg Jennings. “He’s gone through a maturation process. We know what he can do. It’s been all about him, putting it all together.”
Finley’s touchdown receptions Sunday were solid and sure-handed. A 6-yard grab from Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter. A 7-yard haul in the second. A 10-yard grab in the fourth. By then Bears fans could only shake their heads and grimace at the carnage that was left of their defense.
Finley said the best way to attack the Bears’ Cover 2 zone defense was to go to the middle of the field, and that’s pretty much an area where no one can match up with the 6-foot-5 Finley.
And when they tried – like on the last touchdown – it still didn’t work.
“They ran a cloud defense, where they had a guy over me, bumping me, and then they had a guy over the top, capping,” said Finley. “So I went inside of them and A-Rod just lobbed it up. I just tried to get it at the highest point.”
Spending so much of 2010 on injured reserve changed Finley, made him grateful for every game. When asked if he’s unstoppable, Finley wouldn’t take the bait and brag about himself.
“You see as well as I do out there,” he said. “The film answers the question for itself.
“My goal was to go out there and catch every ball thrown at me.”
One change Finley has made this year is trying to temper his pregame energy level.
“I was just trying to be cool because usually in pregame I come out wired up, ready to go,” said Finley. “And then I come in here after the pregame and just be tired. I just tried to be calm.”
And with that calm, he expected a game like this.
“I’ve never done this in my career,” he said. “Little league, Pop Warner, anything, it’s my first three-touchdown game. Pretty awesome.”
It should be noted that Finley also appeared to block well for running back Ryan Grant’s 92-yard day. There was some doubt from outsiders about Finley’s ability to block after he showed up this season leaner. But he didn’t shy away from locking up with Chicago’s linebackers.
“I feel like I had a good all-around game,” said Finley. “My blocking – it’s there. I actually love to block and get my nose dirty a little and everybody don’t know that. And now I’m telling them. I love to block.”
Seven total receptions, 85 yards, 12.1 yards per catch, blocking and healthy – is there any limitation to what Finley aspires to do this season?
His quarterback thinks Finley could get even better.
“His best ball is still in front of him,” said Rodgers. “A couple of those plays he might not have been doing the right thing – but we made it work. He’s a big-time player and incredible athlete and the more he studies the more he is going to get the ball.”