GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers needed a spark.
As time was winding down at the end of the third quarter, the Packers were on their fifth offensive series of the half and had yet to even manage a first down. The Arizona Cardinals had scored to pull within a touchdown, had seized momentum and taken the crowd out of the game.
And just as he did when he caught a touchdown pass from punter Tim Masthay on a fake field goal against the Chicago Bears earlier in the season, Tom Crabtree delivered it.
Crabtree celebrated his 27th birthday by making the biggest play of the Packers’ 31-17 victory, running a difficult delayed route right down the middle of the field, then reeling in what would become a 72-yard touchdown from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“It was just excellent execution,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “They went to a coverage that we were trying to hit and we hit it. It was a matter of the execution between the run fake, and Tom doing a great job with the release and setting the right angle. Aaron gave him a good, clean ball for him to not break stride and score with. It was excellent execution by the players.”
The play was something that the coaching staff had come up with after watching the Cardinals on film last week, and something Crabtree knew had a good possibility of getting called. When it did, the Packers were facing second-and-4 from their own 28-yard line, and Crabtree broke wide open behind linebacker Paris Lenon, catching the ball at the Green Bay 43 and winning an all-out sprint to the end zone.
“He was probably about a 4.9 (-second 40-yard dash) running down there,” wide receiver James Jones said with a laugh. “But, hey, he got seven, and that’s all that matters.”
As primarily a blocking tight end, Crabtree doesn’t usually find himself on the end of a bigger play like that, but said when he does, it’s important to come through.
“That’s my mentality. (I’m) not going to get too many opportunities, but when you do, take advantage of them,” Crabtree said. “It was something we saw throughout the week on film that we thought this play could go. It was a matter of calling it at the right time against the right look and got the linebackers to bite up a little bit, and there wasn’t anybody in the middle of the field so it was just a matter of getting on top of the linebacker, who was already stepping up, and kind of floating the ball over his head.”
The touchdown pass was not only the longest of Crabtree’s career, but also the longest for a Packers’ tight end since Paul Coffman caught one for 78 yards against the Miami Dolphins in 1979. And yet, Crabtree insisted that he’s perfectly happy with the unsung job of blocking on offense and playing on special teams – and he meant it.
“I’m happy to be in there contributing whether it’s special teams or blocking,” Crabtree said. “Those are chances for me, blocking in the running game and stuff like that, so I’m fine doing that stuff too.
“I love nothing more than blocking a guy, or driving a guy into the ground just as much as breaking a long touchdown. I’m probably more used to blocking and springing a touchdown run, so I enjoy that just as much.”
Crabtree’s deceptive speed was the source of many a one-liner afterward, including from the birthday boy himself.
“I was looking back and forth the whole time,” Crabtree said. “I was sure somebody had to catch me, right? But they didn’t, so it was good. I was fast enough, right?”
“I’m still tired. Honestly. I’m still really tired. I need to spend this bye week doing some gassers or something.”
Added wide receiver Randall Cobb: “I did (think he’d get caught from behind) for a second, and then he started pulling away. If it would’ve been another 10 yards (laughs), it wouldn’t have been good. But he was able to make it at a critical moment for us.
“We know ‘Crabby’, his talents and what he’s capable of doing, and he was able to make some plays and get open and score the touchdown.”
Still, even with that touchdown, Crabtree said there’d be no rest for him when he got home.
“I still have to go home and I’m probably going to have to do some chores around the house, and back to reality here in a little bit,” said Crabtree, whose touchdown against the Houston Texans came on his son Bryce’s birthday. “I’m a family man. I’ve got to make sure the house is tidy, help my wife out with the kids.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.