After being quiet his first two years in the NFL, former Saginaw Valley wide receiver Jeff Janis had his coming out party on the biggest stage, with most of the country watching.
Janis came into the game with two catches on the season and four in his career. But in the Saturday, Jan. 16, Division playoff matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals, he was forced to step up in a big way. The Packers, already thin at wide receiver due to injuries, lost starting wideout Randall Cobb, leaving just three active wide outs on the team’s game roster: James Jones, Jared Abbredaris and Janis.
The former Cardinal seized the opportunity, grabbing seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
“Everybody thinks that they can come in and play,” Janis told Robert Zizzo of USA Today. “Everybody wants to come in and show that they can play. Like I said, I just knew I had to step up and that’s what I tried to do.”
But it wasn’t just the number of catches or the amount of yards Janis totaled that was significant, it was that he made plays when it mattered most.
After making a sliding catch to give the Packers their first lead of the game in the third quarter, people started to recognize Janis for stepping up when his team needed him.
Nobody knew he was just getting started.
Late in the fourth quarter, Green Bay once again found itself trailing Arizona. The Packers took the ball but went backwards. Facing a fourth-and-20 from their own four yard-line, the Packers looked to Janis. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a 60-yard pass to his young wide receiver, putting the ball at the Arizona 36-yardline.
Following an incomplete pass, it was time for a Hail Mary – a desperation throw down the field. Once again, Rodgers found Janis.
With time expiring, Rodgers chucked the ball into the end zone, where Janis was able to outjump and catch the desperation pass while fending off one of the NFL’s top defensive backs, Patrick Peterson.
“I saw Aaron throw it,” Janis said. “I tried to guess on the trajectory of it. I saw it coming down and just tried to jump up and make a play.”
The score would be reviewed, but the call would stand, and Janis would be the hot topic on social media. However, he would not have another chance to show his abilities, as the Cardinals took the ball and immediately scored in overtime, sending Green Bay home with a loss.
The “Hail Janis” play propelled Janis into the spotlight.
Arizona linebacker Kevin Minter recognized how good the play was following the game.
He was quoted in an Associated Press article saying the play made his jaw hit the ground.
“Man, he made a play, didn’t he,” Minter said. “It looked like they batted it down and he just made a great play.
“My (darn) jaw was on the ground.”
Meanwhile, many people from SVSU took to social media to share their thoughts following the performance.
Head football coach Jim Collins was impressed by Janis’ showing, tweeting:
“What a game for Jeff Janis. One of the best performances I’ve seen out of a receiver in an NFL playoff game.”
The game wasn’t lost on former men’s soccer coach Cale Wassermann, either. He tweeted:
“Watching (Janis) tear it up for the Packers tonight!!! I remember him working his butt off at the Ryder Center to earn this opportunity!!!!”
Janis was drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft after a record-setting career at SVSU.
During his time with the Cardinals, Janis caught 246 passes for 4,305 yards and 46 touchdowns. He set school records for each category.
An ESPN article titled “Should the Packers have been playing WR Jeff Janis all along?” was published Sunday, criticizing Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy for not playing the third year wide receiver more during the regular season.
Now, Janis will look to carry the success from his playoff performance into next season’s training camp, as he tries to crack the starting lineup on a regular basis.