GREEN BAY – Josh Jones spelled Morgan Burnett at the Packers’ hybrid inside linebacker position throughout the Packers’ offseason program and training camp.
After months of preparation, the Packers finally had the chance to see what both versatile safeties could do together on the field at the same time.
With Burnett playing as a slot cornerback, Jones slid into the linebacker role next to Blake Martinez in the Packers’ “Nitro” nickel defense, which Green Bay played almost exclusively in Sunday’s 27-24 overtime win over Cincinnati.
The rookie second-round pick out of N.C. State responded with 12 tackles (three for a loss) and two sacks, which both came during the Packers’ second-half surge.
Jones made perhaps the biggest tackle of the game in containing Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft to a 1-yard gain on third-and-6 on Cincinnati’s opening series of overtime. The three-and-out forced the Bengals to punt, setting up the Packers’ game-winning field-goal drive.
“I was fired up to be out there, be out there with my teammates,” Jones said. “Everybody had my back. We had each other’s back and we went out there and played football.”
The Packers entered Sunday’s game against the Bengals with five starters missing on defense: defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hip), linebackers Nick Perry (hand) and Jake Ryan (concussion/hamstring), cornerback Davon House (quad) and safety Kentrell Brice (groin).
With Brice out, the Packers altered their nitro package to a four-safety look with second-year safety Marwin Evans replacing Brice on the back end, Jones switching in for Burnett at inside linebacker and Burnett playing in the slot.
Rookie cornerback Kevin King and Damarious Randall started on the boundary, with second-year cornerback Josh Hawkins also subbing in.
The reshuffled defense got off to a slow start, as the Bengals gained 192 total yards in the first half with two lengthy touchdown drives to take a 21-7 halftime lead.
However, the Packers settled down in the second half in holding Cincinnati to only one field goal. Their ability to stop the Bengals on five consecutive series after Giovani Bernard’s 6-yard touchdown catch with 12 minutes, 29 second left in the second quarter gave Green Bay’s offense a chance to get back into the game.
“We felt like it went back in our favor,” said linebacker Clay Matthews of the second half. “(Defensive coordinator) Dom (Capers) was saying something at halftime that we had won the first seven runs and then they popped a few.
“Obviously in the second half, we hunkered down. They made some plays but, for the most part, we were able to limit them to three points in the second half, which was huge.”
Jones has been rotating in behind Burnett in practice since the regular season started, but Sunday marked his first NFL start. He used the opportunity to put his speed and physicality on display.
“It’s satisfying to know that your preparation paid off, but this is a long season,” Jones said. “This is just one game. I expect to continue to do that throughout this season. Help this team get to the main goal and you guys obviously know what that is.”
In their own words: With an older brother who is a police officer and a grandfather who’s buried in the Milwaukee Veterans cemetery, Lance Kendricks didn’t take his decision to sit during the national anthem lightly.
It was something that weighed on the Packers tight end from the time Kendricks woke up Sunday morning until the moment he made the spontaneous decision to support fellow tight end Martellus Bennett before kickoff.
A former Boy Scout, Kendricks chose to sit during the national anthem in response to the current situation in Puerto Rico, which was recently devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Kendricks’ wife, Danielle, is a native of Puerto Rico with many members of her immediate family still living in the United States territory. Her family is safe, but Kendricks does have friends who are still searching for loved ones after the flooding.
“I’ve been to Puerto Rico three or four times - it’s a beautiful place and for it to be half underwater and help not to get there ASAP, I feel like that’s something that really should be focused on,” Kendricks said. “I’m not in any way political. I don’t really have huge voice on that, but that’s just my opinion.”
Kendricks got choked up talking in the locker room afterward. He didn’t make the decision to sit until the moment the PA announcer instructed everyone to stand and remove their hats.
Kendricks hadn’t talked to his older brother, a police officer in California, when asked about his decision to sit directly after the game, but said they fully support each other.
“He’s my oldest brother. He’s my big brother. He taught me the way,” Kendricks said. “I think he’d be proud of me for standing up for what I believe in. It’s just bigger than us.
“There are people over there missing and homeless. It’s bigger than being selfish on a decision to do something. It’s about helping others and making sure others are safe, especially in this country. Puerto Rico is a part of this country.”
When asked if he plans to continue sitting, Kendricks said: “I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“I don’t want to offend anybody but I just think it’s bigger than standing and sitting,” Kendricks said. “We just have to make sure the people over there are safe and I wanted to support my guy Marty over here, too. His brother obviously had the incident. That’s all.”
Rookie cornerback Kevin King sat next to Bennett and Kendricks during the national anthem, while many other Packers players stood on the sideline with their arms interlocked.
Likewise, King said it was a tough decision for him. He has a grandfather who is a veteran. He said he felt the need to sit after the recent comments made by President Donald Trump.
“It was a tough decision. But it was something I thought was (right),” said King, who doesn’t know whether he’ll continue to sit. “It’s something that’s been on my mind but I didn’t want to do it because for reasons … but when I heard some comments that were made recently that kind of put it over the top a little bit.”
Stepping in: One week after making his first NFL start at right tackle, Justin McCray stepped in at two different spots on the offensive line against the Bengals.
McCray took a few snaps early in the game at left guard when Lane Taylor left briefly, and then McCray finished the game at right tackle after Bryan Bulaga exited with an ankle injury and didn’t return.
“I was looking at Bryan the whole game and seeing what he was getting, and staying prepared,” said McCray, who played all 76 snaps last week in Atlanta. “I felt comfortable out there. I felt comfortable last week, but I still had a lot of nerves and jitters. I felt ready to go as soon as I got in today.”
Jordy Nelson’s two touchdown catches Sunday moved the Packers receiver into sole possession of second place in franchise history with 66 career touchdown receptions, trailing only Don Hutson (99). Moving up:
He moved past Sterling Sharpe with a 3-yard touchdown catch from Aaron Rodgers, which tied the game at 24 with 17 seconds remaining in regulation.
“I would say Aaron put it out where it was only going to be for me to catch it and I just had to make sure I maintained it and got down on the ground,” Nelson said. “The (defender, Dre Kirkpatrick) tried to make a great play, he just came up a little short. If the ball’s on me or behind me a little bit, then he makes the play but it’s out in front where only I can make it.”
Heat wave: With a game-time temperature of 89 degrees, Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals was the warmest home game in franchise history (since 1959).
The previous high was 85 degrees vs. New Orleans at Milwaukee County Stadium on Sept. 10, 1978. The previous high at Lambeau Field was 84 degrees vs. the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 6, 1963.
“I’m from Florida, so I love the heat,” receiver Geronimo Allison said. “I’ll take the heat as much as I can get it, and then being in that atmosphere, overtime, it’s crunch time. It’s who’s going to make a play. Anybody can make a play, but it takes 11 guys.”
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