Aaron Rodgers whipped back his arm and with pinpoint accuracy fired a pass to his far left. Standing in wait was an uncovered Donald Driver, the Packers’ all-time leader in receiving yards. Driver’s feet were nearly a yard beyond the first down marker. It was a near certainty that the chains were about to move.
An anxious moment later, the football slithered through the receiver’s grasp. A visibly upset Driver paused for reflection and then trotted back to the huddle to prepare for third and ten.
When his receivers make mistakes, Rodgers has historically tried to go back to them quickly to restore their confidence. Third and ten would be no different. Rodgers tossed another beauty towards Driver who again was open right around the first down. The pass made contact with Driver’s chest before bouncing straight into the air, dangling there for seemingly an eternity.
Driver managed to recover the live ball, but was tackled just short of the necessary 10 yards. The nearest referee, however, marked Driver’s progress as a first down. Wisely, Rodgers gathered the offense and quickly ran a play before a challenge flag could be thrown.
The result of that play was a 21-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. Yet, the most significant part of the drive remains the two consecutive plays to Driver.
Outside of Rodgers, Driver is the most popular player on the team. Packers fans give more rope to Driver than any other receiver, refusing to boo any drop or mistake he makes. But there’s been many mistakes by Driver since the beginning of 2011, and the receiver has flashed his former brilliance little if at all this season.
Following Driver’s drop and near second drop, head coach Mike McCarthy removed Driver and played undrafted rookie Jarrett Boykin in his stead. Should this move prove more than just an in-game adjustment, Driver will have descended from starter to sixth string in a matter of a year and a half. His declining abilities, as unfortunate as it may be to acknowledge, are blatantly obvious. That is, perhaps, obvious to almost everyone except the Packers faithful.
In a few weeks the Packers will regain the services of Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. With their top two pass catchers back in the lineup, there will be no need for the Packers to play six receivers each week. When that time comes, the Packers should take the unprecedented step of deactivating Donald Driver.
This will be hard for all of us as Driver is a part of so many memories from the past decade. Even today, he remains a positive presence on the team. The play that resulted in Randall Cobb’s first touchdown this past week against the Cardinals was actually supposed to go to Driver. Before the play, Driver gestured for Cobb to take his spot as the outside receiver and told him, “Go get it kid.” Driver traded personal glory for the dirty work of landing a block, allowed the younger and spryer Cobb to dash into the end zone. It was a classy move by a classy player.
But the NFL is a bottom line business, and Driver is hurting his team. At 27.3 percent, he has the highest dropped pass rate of any Packers receiver, and his ability to create yards after the catch has evaporated. The Driver we’re observing today is not the player that went over the 1,000-yard mark seven times in eight years. He’s not even the player we saw last year. Rather, the sad truth is Donald Driver is not a player deserving of activation on game days.
It may be a difficult reality to accept, but it is reality nonetheless.