GREEN BAY, Wis. — While the commercials rolled, rookie Randall Cobb stood deep in his own end zone. Stretching, jumping, restless. He needed this return.
And with another screw-up, the rookie's career was off and running. Not long after running the wrong route on a 32-yard touchdown catch, Cobb decided to bring a kick back ... 8 yards deep in his own end zone.
"I'm not supposed to bring that out," said Cobb, the former University of Kentucky star. "I'm not. Some things just aren't logical. Some things are the power of God. That definitely was."
And in a flash — one record-tying 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — Cobb took matters into his own hands. At full speed, he absorbed a punishing hit from a Saints tackler, rolled off and sped up the left sideline for a mesmerizing score. Teammate Jarrett Bush leapt on top of him, tackled the rookie, and a generation-long problem seemed rectified.
Cobb may be the high-voltage returner the Packers have missed for the better part of two decades. In Green Bay's 42-34 win over the Saints Thursday night, this second-rounder also proved he's yet another weapon for quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the passing game. His 108-yard masterpiece of a return tied an NFL record. At receiver, he also got into the Packers' first-quarter fun, scoring the team's third touchdown.
Green Bay's entire garage of toys returned this season. But Cobb cannot be ignored.
"He's great to have," said receiver Jordy Nelson, who finished with six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. "He was dinged up a little bit in the pre-season, so he's been on the shelf a little bit. He's been our little secret and he's out there now."
Almost right away at training camp, Cobb's talent was clear. Somehow, Coach Mike McCarthy would need to find a way to utilize this slick, sure-handed wide receiver from Kentucky. He was set back by bruised knees during the pre-season, nursed back to health slowly and started his NFL career with a bang.
On Cobb's touchdown reception, he zipped across the Saints defense — his long stride and speed reminiscent of the veterans ahead of him. Problem was, Cobb ran the wrong route. He was supposed to run a drag to the sideline.
"We didn't have off-season workouts, but surprisingly I was able to read his body language there and he made a nice catch and run for a touchdown," Rodgers said.
Green Bay took a 21-7 lead before the first bell was even rung.
New Orleans prefers diversity with its receivers. Marques Colston is a rebounder boxing out defenders, and Devery Henderson is a deep threat. The Packers simply keep finding the same breed of receiver — 6-foot-2, tough, fast, explosive. That's the blueprint.
Nine Packers had a reception. Rodgers vowed all summer his job is simply to hit the man who's open. Right away, he stayed true to his word. Get open, he'll find you. James Jones, who surprisingly re-signed with the Packers, finished with one reception for 1 yard.
Cobb's rapid emergence is a great problem to have. He's raising the bar.
"It's tough because we all want to play," Nelson said. "We just know that when you get out there you need to make the most of your opportunities. If you don't, we'll get on you.
"It'd be nice to get five (touchdowns) a game — five each. That'd be nice. We came close tonight."
For now, Cobb's value is best served on kick returns. He returned another kick 27 yards and had a promising punt return called back. Across the league, returners have been frustrated with the new kickoff rule that moved the ball up 5 yards.
Cobb says the team's cardinal rule is to take a knee if you're 5 yards deep. Whoops.
"Both of my touchdowns were mess-ups," Cobb said. "Missed assignments. Fortunately, we made a play and made something happen out of them. But I'm going to get negatives on those plays tomorrow."
His kickoff return was precisely the momentum-builder the Packers needed. The Saints had just methodically sucked the life out of Lambeau Field with a 14-play, 60-yard drive lasting more than six minutes. A short field goal pulled New Orleans to 28-20, in clear striking range for Drew Brees. Cobb extended the lead and the Packers would eventually douse the flames on a furious Saints rally.
After the game, McCarthy told the team Cobb's return tied an NFL record. His career is one game old.
Cobb hopes this is just the beginning. "That's definitely a team record," Cobb said. "It may go in the books as an individual record, but that was definitely a team task right there."