The Green Bay Packers have a secret weapon.
You know that Aaron Rodgers is playing at the height of his powers, running the table for an improbable entrée to the MVP race. You probably also know that Jordy Nelson's midseason return to 2014 form jumpstarted Rodgers' scorching streak.
But did you know that Green Bay's fortunes rise and fall with the presence of tight end Jared Cook?
The Packers are 8-2 with Cook in the lineup this season, averaging 28.4 points per game. In those 10 weeks, Rodgers sports a sparkling 25:1 TD-to-INT ratio and a 114.0 passer rating.
How do those numbers compared to the six games Cook missed due to a severely sprained ankle?
The Packers went 2-4 without Cook, averaging 24.7 points per game. Over that stretch, Rodgers TD-to-INT ratio slips to 15:6 with a 92.3 passer rating.
"I think Jared's return has been important, just giving us two tight ends that can get down the field," Rodgers explained in late December, via ESPN.com. "Obviously, he's a matchup issue when you split him out to his own side, as we've seen in various games."
Enjoying the luxury of an athletic seam-stretcher has been especially beneficial to Rodgers on third downs. Since Cook returned from injury in Week 11, Rodgers has completed 10 passes for 175 yards and a 118.2 rating on 13 third-down throws to the speedy tight end.
"I've talked about it since I got here: The fastest way to the end zone is through the middle of the field," coach Mike McCarthy said. "So the bigger target you have going down the field, the better it is for your quarterback, particularly more athletic, bigger throwing radius and all of that. Jared Cook has all of those attributes. He's been an excellent attribute to our football team."