Nam Y. Huy / Associated Press
Packers wide reciever James Jones lunges for one of his three touchdowns on Sunday in Chicago.
By SARAH BARSHOP
CHICAGO -- Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers knows how good James Jones can be. Jones has become one of his “go-to” receivers this season and there’s not much else the wide receiver could do to surprise Rodgers.
Except maybe drop a pass.
“If he drops a ball, that surprises me, which doesn’t happen a whole lot,” Rodgers said with a chuckle. “He’s been very consistent for us.”
Jones, who connected with Rodgers for three touchdowns in the Packers’ 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears, has 46 receptions for 562 yards this season, and hadn’t dropped a pass until Dec. 9 against Detroit.
Entering this season, Jones had the second-highest drop rate (14.39 percent) in the NFL from 2009-’11, according to Profootballfocus.com. Rodgers attributes the change to the work that the wide receiver puts into every week of practice and game preparation.
“I think his attitude has been great, he’s been dialed in every week, his preparation has been very good, (and) he practices the right way,” Rodgers said. “He’s just been making plays. He gets a lot of opportunities.”
Unlike in years past, Jones has taken advantage of those opportunities this season.
“Every day I come out, I’m just trying to get better, trying to improve,” Jones said. “It’s a long year, you’re going to make some mistakes, but every day you come out in practice and just try to get better and just trying to make the most of my opportunities.”
Most of Jones’ chances this season have come in the red zone. Despite having fewer receiving yards than one would expect a wide receiver with 12 touchdowns to have, Jones and Rodgers have take advantage of their chemistry at critical times. As a comparison, A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals has 11 touchdowns this season – second to Jones in the NFL – and has amassed 1208 receiving yards.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Jones’ ability to make the “big catch” is a large part of his success.
“He just catches touchdowns,” McCarthy said. “That's a nice job responsibility to have. It's just the way it falls sometimes. James is having an excellent year. I can't say enough about him. The ability to make the big catch, just the back-shoulder fade there, he's playing very well.”
Added Rodgers: “His three touchdowns today, he catches a fade down the sideline with a very good release, he catches an underneath route where he caught a high, difficult pass and was able to get into the end zone. He catches a back-shoulder fade on one of the top corners in the league. Got to give him a ton of credit, those are big-time plays and he’s a go-to guy.”
That back-shoulder catch was Jones’ third touchdown of the day. Though the shortest in yardage, it was the most difficult. After Rodgers threw an incomplete pass to tight end Jermichael Finley, Bears’ safety Chris Conte bailed Green Bay out with a pass interference penalty. Following a delay of game penalty on the Packers, Rodgers threw a difficult pass to Jones’ back-shoulder for a 6-yard touchdown.
“It’s a tough play to defend, and it’s a tough ball to throw, too, as well, because just reading off the defender, if he would’ve stuck his hand back, he probably would’ve hit the ball,” Jones said. “It was one of those plays we were able to connect on the back shoulder. He played it well, he didn’t want me to get over the top of him, and we were able to connect on a back-shoulder ball.”
Despite Jones’ individual success this season, he knows the offense can’t just run through him and Rodgers.
“We needed everybody,” Jones said. “Offense doesn’t move with one person. Offense moves with everybody, starting with No. 12 (Rodgers). But we needed everybody to make plays. Randall caught a bunch of crucial third-down catches, Jermichael (Finley) came up big, Greg (Jennings) made some plays. It was a team win.”
And the success the Packers have had playing as a team, Jones said, is the reason the team is 10-4 after a 2-3 start, and the reason the Packers are NFC North Champions.
“That’s what we came out here for, to get a win, to go home division champs and continue to just continue to grow as a team and get better as a team,” Jones said.
“We know this was not our ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl, so we have a lot of work to do.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop