As late as the middle of December last season, most people, including veteran beat writer Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, thought that 2012 would be the last season tight end Jermichael Finley would play with the Green Bay Packers.
But that thinking turned out to be premature, because Finley became much more consistent down the stretch for the Packers. He stopped dropping passes, ran better patterns and made some difficult catches. He even blocked better.
In the last three games of the 2012 regular season, Finley caught 18 passes for 203 yards. He then caught five passes for 45 yards in the postseason.
Finley also broke the Packers' all-time record for catches in a season by a tight end in 2012, as he snared 61 passes. The only problem? Finley only caught two touchdown passes.
However, if you look back on his last three full seasons for the Packers (throwing out the 2010 season when he had a knee injury), Finley has caught an average of 57 passes for 703 yards and five touchdowns per season.
Going into the 2012 season, Pro Football Focus had Finley tied for sixth among tight ends in the NFL in drops over a three-year period. Finley didn't help himself in that category through much of the 2012 season.
Finley also coughed up the ball on a fumble last season, although that was only the second lost fumble of his career.
But something changed for Finley once the rumors of him potentially being cast adrift by the Packers started circulating. Finley became a very dependable target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Remember, Finley is still just 26 years old, but even at that young age, Finley has already played five seasons in the NFL.
When it came time for the Packers to make a decision on Finley this offseason, the Packers not only kept No. 88, but didn't change his contract status. Finley will make $8.25 million in 2013 in the final year of the two-year deal he signed in the 2011 offseason.
The Packers also paid Finley a $3 million roster bonus to keep his services in 2013.
If Finley can play to the same standards that he showed late in the 2012 season, the Packers might see a big year from the former Texas Longhorn.
Let us ponder why that may happen.
Wide receiver Greg Jennings left the Packers via free agency to join the Minnesota Vikings and longtime veteran wideout Donald Driver retired. However, Rodgers still has his Big Three to throw to at wide receiver, in Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb.
The Packers also expect to be much better at running the football in 2013, based on changes to the offensive line and with the drafting of running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
What that all means is that Finley should have more opportunities to catch the football in 2013. There will also be more chances for Rodgers to stretch the seam down the field, as safeties will have to play closer to the line of scrimmage with the threat of a solid running game.
As always, because of his 6'5", 247-pound frame, Finley will be a potent threat for scoring touchdowns as the Packers drive their way into the red zone of opponents.
The game that is still the signature game in Finley's career was Green Bay's Wild Card Game against the Arizona Cardinals in the 2009 postseason where Finley had six catches for 159 yards. That's a 26.5 yards-per-catch average, folks.
Then there was the Finley game in 2011 against the Chicago Bears where he caught seven passes for 85 yards and three touchdowns.
Finley is very capable of putting together games like those two monster efforts, especially if he remains as consistent and dependable as he was late in the 2012 season.
Time will tell, but Finley could be looking at the best year of his career in 2013. He also could be looking at a long-term deal with the Packers before too long as well.
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