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Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay Packers lobbied in fourth for Allen Lazard to play



GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers wanted Allen Lazard on the field, and Lazard wanted Rodgers to throw him the ball.

Both moves helped save the Green Bay Packers on Monday night against the Detroit Lions.

Even with Davante Adams already out for a second straight game with turf toe and Geronimo Allison knocked out of the game with a head and chest injury, the Packers still didn’t immediately turn to Lazard.

In fact, it wasn’t until after rookie receiver Darrius Shepherd dropped a pass at the Lions’ 1-yard line — it actually ricocheted off his facemask and was intercepted — that the Packers finally went to the relatively unknown 6-foot-5 receiver.

And not until Rodgers asked for him.

“I may have put in a good word there in the fourth quarter to get him some opportunities,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said he went to receivers coach Alvis Whitted and asked “if [No. 13] could come in for a little bit.”

Four catches, 65 yards and a touchdown later, the Packers had a new hero. Yes, Mason Crosby officially finished off the 23-22 victory with a 23-yard last-second field goal — with his wife, Molly, in the stands a mere six weeks after she underwent surgery to remove a cancerous spot in her lung.

But if not for Lazard, who before Monday night had never caught a pass in a regular-season game from Rodgers, the Packers might not be 5-1 and atop the NFC North.

Down 22-13, Rodgers first went to Lazard on deep ball that fell incomplete. One play later, Rodgers went back to him, and it turned into a 35-yard touchdown.

It was Lazard’s first catch of the season and just the second of his career.

Last season, the former undrafted free agent from Iowa State who originally signed the Jaguars and then was signed by the Packers off Jacksonville’s practice on Dec. 18 played one snap and caught one pass for 7 yards. It came in the regular-season finale against the Lions after Rodgers had left the game because of a concussion.

Before Sunday, Lazard had played just 21 snaps and his only target wasn’t even an official target because pass interference was called in the Week 4 loss to the Eagles.

Yet there was Lazard after Monday night’s game oozing confidence.

“I’m made for this s—,” Lazard said.

Lazard’s other three catches all came on the game-winning drive. Two went for first downs.

“I actually sit next to him in the team meetings, and we’ve struck up a pretty good friendship,” Rodgers said. “The thing that got me was, which you love as a quarterback, and that’s receivers coming back and telling you he wants the ball and what routes he wants to run. The big first down we had to him on the out route, that was him coming back to the huddle and telling me what play he wanted. For a young guy to do that, how can you not have confidence in that.”

Rodgers said coach Matt LaFleur had two play calls in mind.

“I said go with the first one because I’m going to throw it to Allen and we’re going to move the sticks,” Rodgers said. “And we did.”

All this for a player the Packers cut at the end of training camp in favor of Shepherd.

“I was definitely worried he was going to get picked up because the production was there in preseason,” Rodgers said.

After no one claimed Lazard off waivers, the Packers re-signed him to their practice squad immediately and then promoted him to the active roster the day before the season opener at Chicago.

“I honestly just believed in myself,” Lazard said. “I knew what my capabilities were. I know the talent that I have, I know the production that I produced before. It’s a different stage, but it’s the same to me.”

It’s unclear when Adams will return; he said last week that his toe “doesn’t feel how I want it to feel at the moment.” And Allison’s injury could potentially be serious. But it’s clear Rodgers thinks he has a new reliable weapon in Lazard.

“I think sometimes you have an injury or whatnot or for whatever reason and that’s how some guys become who they are,” LaFleur said. “He was given his opportunity and to his credit, he was ready for that opportunity.”

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Colts’ T.Y. Hilton struggles in return, says loss ‘totally on me’



HOUSTON — Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton couldn’t call NRG Stadium in Houston his second home after the way he played Thursday night against the Texans.

Hilton, instead, said the Colts’ 20-17 loss was “100 percent” on him after he struggled in his return following a three-game absence because of a calf injury.

“I let the team down,” said Hilton, who finished with three catches, none in the second half, for 18 yards in arguably his worst performance in eight career games in Houston. “Totally on me.”

Hilton went into Thursday averaging 133.3 receiving yards a game against the Texans in his career in games played in Houston. He joked in the past that NRG Stadium was a second home for him.

“When someone says this is their home, they’re insulting me,” said Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who had six catches for 94 yards and two scores. “T.Y. is a great player. That’s my boy. But I take things like that personally. I didn’t know that until you just said that, because I’m not really in the media. But he’s played some amazing games here. [Thursday] wasn’t their day.”

That Hilton even played Thursday could be considered surprising. Since injuring his calf in practice Oct. 30, he practiced just once, on Wednesday, and even then the Colts only held a walk-through because that’s what they routinely do the day before games.

Colts coach Frank Reich said the plan was to play Hilton no more than 30 snaps because it was his first game since Oct. 27 against Denver. Hilton ended up playing 25.

“I give him credit for wanting to be on the field,” Reich said. “We knew even if we could get him on the field for 20, 30 plays, some of it was just as a decoy so hopefully [the Texans] would roll the coverage to him or do something like that and give us a chance to run it a little bit better. So that was part of the plan.”

Hilton spent most of the game being a decoy and then failed to come through when the Colts needed him. He dropped a pass along the Houston’s sideline on third-and-4 late in the third quarter when the Colts were trying to hold on to a 17-13 lead. On the Colts’ next possession, Hilton dropped another third-down pass deep along the sideline in the fourth quarter after the Texans went up 20-17.

“I have to make that,” said Hilton, who admitted he was sore. “That’s what I get paid for. I have to make them. One hundred percent on me.”

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DeAndre Hopkins’ monster game gives Texans’ huge playoff boost – Houston Texans Blog



HOUSTON — Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has two home run-hitting wide receivers in Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, so star DeAndre Hopkins‘ role has been a little different this season. But it was a throwback night in the Houston Texans’ 20-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday.

Entering the game, Hopkins was averaging 9.9 yards per reception this season, well below his 14.1 average over his first six NFL seasons. But against the Colts, Hopkins had two huge plays that put the Texans into first place in the AFC South.

Earlier in the week, Hopkins called this a “must-win” game for Houston, given the Colts’ position in the standings. The teams had the same 6-4 record coming into the game, but Indianapolis held the tiebreaker because the Colts beat the Texans in Week 7. With Thursday’s victory, the Texans have a 74% chance to win the division, per ESPN’s Football Power Index; that number would have fallen to 20% with a loss.

Hopkins finished with six catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns; he had two touchdown catches in his previous nine games entering Thursday. He and Watson have combined for 24 touchdowns since Watson’s rookie season of 2017, which trails only Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown (26) for the most in that span.

Hopkins has caught a touchdown in his past five games against the Colts. He didn’t have any in his first eight career games against Indianapolis.

Buy a breakout performance: Fuller had seven catches for 140 yards, and it wasn’t even his best game of the season — he had three touchdowns and 217 receiving yards against the Falcons — but it was his first game back since he injured his hamstring in Week 7 in Indianapolis, and his return was a huge factor. It was the most receiving yards by any player against the Colts this season. If Fuller can stay healthy — something he has struggled with during his NFL career — he will continue to play an important part in this offense, particularly deep down the field.

QB breakdown: Watson completed 19 of 30 passes for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He earned most of those yards downfield Thursday, completing all four of his passes on throws of 30-plus yards. Both of his touchdown passes came on those plays. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s the most deep-ball attempts without an incompletion in a game since 2006, when the data became available.

Eye-popping NextGen Stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, there was 5.2 yards of separation on Hopkins’ second-quarter touchdown catch, which is the most separation for a Texans wide receiver on a touchdown reception this season. The pass had an air distance of 49.5 yards. That was the second-longest scoring pass to a wide-open receiver (five-plus yards of separation) in the NFL this season behind a Tom Brady touchdown pass (50.9 yards) to Phillip Dorsett.

Troubling trend: A game after the Texans allowed 256 rushing yards at Baltimore, they gave up 175 yards on 39 carries to the Colts. Indianapolis had two rushing touchdowns Thursday, its first game against Houston with multiple rushing touchdowns since Week 16 of the 2007 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. On the Colts’ first touchdown drive, they ran on all seven plays for 42 yards. On their second touchdown drive, Indianapolis ran on 10 of the 11 plays for 59 yards. The Colts did this without starting running back Marlon Mack, who suffered a broken hand in Week 11.

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Jonathan Williams turns short run into big play for first TD since 2016



HOUSTON — Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Williams, starting Thursday in place of the injured Marlon Mack (hand), capped a 11-play, 66-yard drive that featured 10 rushing plays with the best run of the drive.

Williams started up the middle, where he was met by Houston Texans linebackers Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney after what should have been a short gain. Williams broke free from both players and bounced to the outside. Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph thought he had a clear shot at Williams, but the running back delivered a left-handed stiff-arm to the cornerback before running into the end zone for the touchdown.

It was Williams’ first touchdown with the Colts and his first in three seasons. Paired with a Jacoby Brissett scoring run in the first half, it’s the first time the Colts have had multiple rushing touchdowns against the Texans since Week 16 of 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

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