GREEN BAY – The two most regrettable moments from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s rookie season occurred on the same field, 17 games apart.
The up-and-coming Packers safety is vowing to move on from the second the same way he did the first.
Back in Week 1 of 2014 in his NFL debut in Seattle, Clinton-Dix whiffed on an open-field tackle attempt, allowing Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette to waltz into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
The rookie was understandably down about the play, seen by a national TV audience. But he didn’t stay down about it, and he didn’t let it define his rookie year. He studied the tape, understood what he did wrong technique-wise, and worked to become one of the surer tacklers in the Green Bay secondary by season’s end.
“It’s something I have to deal with,” he said a few days after the kickoff opener. “It hurt me bad, but I watched the film, got over it and I’m moving forward.”
Four-and-a-half months later, back in Seattle with the NFC title at stake, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson rolled right and lofted a prayer back to his left in the direction of tight end Luke Willson and Clinton-Dix.
Badly misjudging the high floater, Clinton-Dix got out of position and allowed Willson to make an easy catch for a two-point conversion, giving Seattle a three-point lead with 1:25 left in the fourth quarter.
With all offseason to think about it, Clinton-Dix decided the same approach he took back in Week 1 should serve him well heading into his second season.
“You see the play over and over again on SportsCenter,” he said following a recent OTA practice, acknowledging another hurtful moment in his young career. “You know it’s your fault, and you just have to own up and accept it and move on.
“One thing about it, they don’t remember what you did good. They remember the bad plays, and that’s what you have to get over. It is what it is.”
True enough. It’s easy to forget that prior to the whiff in Week 1, Clinton-Dix had chased Wilson down on a scramble for his first sack, and he recovered a muffed punt by Seattle to set up a touchdown.
He was also having his best game as a pro in the NFC Championship prior to the two-point gaffe, with two interceptions in the first three quarters. He had a potential third pick go right through his hands midway through the fourth quarter, a play that would have put him in the history books and likely prevented the fateful two-point play from ever occurring.
Whether discussing the good or the bad, though, Clinton-Dix won’t be reflecting much on his promising rookie season.
“That was last year, and I have a lot to prove this year,” he said. “I put that behind me, and I’m ready to work.”
Year two of the partnership at safety with veteran Morgan Burnett will be worth watching. Clinton-Dix’s head is no longer swimming in Dom Capers’ playbook, which should allow his instincts and athleticism to shine brighter.
Fellow defensive back Micah Hyde recalled how last year during OTAs, he and Clinton-Dix were at times paired together at safety when Burnett took a rest, and they’d finish practice with at least a half-dozen mental errors apiece as they learned on the fly.
This year, Hyde already sees “a much smarter player” in Clinton-Dix, who is giving Burnett a more reliable, playmaking partner than he’s had before. With Sean Richardson an experienced third safety and Hyde able to fill in when needed, the position has gone from a liability in Capers’ defense to a strength in fairly short order.
“This defense is set up for everyone to make plays,” Clinton-Dix said. “When your time is called, you have to make that play.”
And when you don’t …
“You just have to learn from it,” he said. “Swallow the pill and go on.”