Robert Tonyan has been in the NFL since 2017, but Monday night was his official introduction to the football world.
Tonyan caught six passes for 98 yards and an eye-popping three touchdowns in a 30-16 win over Atlanta, enjoying the majority of end zone-related attention from Aaron Rodgers in the Packers’ fourth-straight win to start 2020. He became the only Packers undrafted player in the common draft era (since 1967) to have three-plus receiving touchdowns in one game, exceeded his career touchdown total in one night, and pulled even with Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans for the league lead in receiving touchdowns (five).
“When plays come to me, I’ve gotta make ’em,” Tonyan said afterward. “Aaron had a nice little look in his eye tonight so I just was trying to roll with that.”
The Packers are 4-0 and have gotten there without a ton of help from their key receivers, who haven’t all been available for the same game since Week 1. No matter for Rodgers, who has instead turned to players like Tonyan and the many running backs available to him to fill the void.
Monday night wasn’t Tonyan’s first interaction with the end zone — in fact, Tonyan scored a touchdown way back in the pre-pandemic Before Times of 2018, a campaign in which he appeared in 16 games and caught four passes for 77 yards and the lone score. He did so again in 2019, hauling in 10 receptions for 100 yards and one touchdown (round numbers can be so satisfying).
But Tonyan has already outdone his previous career highs in just four games in 2020, and if you’d watched the Packers at all in the lead-up to Monday night — especially in the last two weeks — you wouldn’t be all that surprised by Tonyan’s outburst. Rodgers has been consistently looking Tonyan’s way this season, targeting him eight times combined in the last two weeks before he saw six targets Monday night. Of those 13 targets through the last three games (Tonyan wasn’t targeted in Week 1), Tonyan has caught all but one of them.
“Constantly I’m thinking about making plays all day,” Tonyan said. “Whether I’m at home on my couch, just sitting, I’m just thinking about making plays, just playing the games over and over in my head. The game has slowed down for me and is coming to me a lot easier.”
It’s all a product of what is proving to be a beautiful partnership between Rodgers and second-year coach Matt LaFleur, who has this offense humming and makes for a difficult game plan for an upcoming opponent. With no Davante Adams and with Allen Lazard heading to injured reserve last week, there’s no telling where Rodgers might go with the ball, with four different tight ends — veteran Marcedes Lewis, rookie Josiah Deguara, second-year man Jace Sternberger and Tonyan — recording at least one reception in the first month. In fact, statistically, Rodgers is even more effective without Adams, a strange but true revelation.
With Monday’s performance, Rodgers became just the fourth passer since 1948 (!) to start the season with 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first four games, per NFL Research. The last time he had 12 passing touchdowns through four games, he won NFL MVP and Green Bay finished 15-1.
Add in the fact Rodgers looks as happy and loose as ever playing for LaFleur’s Packers, and you’ve got a tough go ahead of yourself if you’re the team occupying the opposite sideline.
“This locker room is crazy,” Tonyan said. “There’s just so much genuine love for each other, and we come into work every day happy to see each other. I think that’s a benefit of being in Green Bay is there’s nothing really else to do but be with your teammates and build that bond. I’m glad to be a Green Bay Packer; this is awesome.”
Not even a late-game scare could ruin Monday night for Green Bay, when Rodgers stumbled and appeared to be working out a kink in his leg in the moments that followed. With a history of lower-body issues, Packers fans had to be briefly holding their collective breath.
But on a night like this, Rodgers was feeling too good to let it get anyone down.
“I think it was more embarrassment than injury,” he said. “My ankle kinda, or knee, something, kinda hyperextended maybe a little bit but I’m alright.”
At 4-0, the bye week will allow for Rodgers to get some time off in the event there’s any issue at all. For Tonyan, it will buy him a little more time to answer the many text messages he’s received following his first breakout game.
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