GREEN BAY — Blake Martinez was nervous his chance at nabbing his first career interception had escaped him on Thursday night against Chicago.
The Packers’ rookie linebacker, trailing Bears receiver Cameron Meredith up the seam, turned his head in time to have a Matt Barkley pass ricochet off his hands with a little more than 5 minutes remaining in the eventual 26-10 victory over the Bears.
As the ball fell to the ground, Martinez clapped his hands together when it dawned on him how close he was to grabbing the turnover and sealing the win.
“I thought we were going to get that one,” Martinez said.
He didn’t have to wait long for a second chance, though.
Three plays later, another Barkley ball came sailing into his vicinity. It started when safety Morgan Burnett broke up the pass intended for Zach Miller, causing the ball to bounce in Martinez’s lap.
This time, Martinez corralled it and immediately fell to the ground. He felt someone touch him, so his initial reaction was to get back to his feet and celebrate.
However, no whistle had blown. The play wasn’t over.
“Everybody thought I was down,” Martinez said. “The only person, Joe Thomas, was like, ‘Blake, keep going.’ All of a sudden I look forward and seven guys were running after me.”
Martinez pulled his foot free from Miller’s attempted tackle and turned up field. What he saw was the entire Bears’ offense descend upon him.
“At that point, I was at survival mode,” said Martinez with a smile.
While coaches screamed at the rookie to get down, Martinez danced his way to a modest 4-yard gain that felt like it took forever to play out.
Martinez credits his first NFL turnover to the coaches emphasizing the idea of pursuit and finish this season. The play was behind him, but he made sure to run to the ball after it was thrown. He earned his first professional pick for his extra effort.
Martinez finished the game with a team-high five combined tackles, the two passes defensed and interception on 35 defensive snaps.
The Packers needed every rep they received from Martinez on Thursday night, especially after second-year linebacker Jake Ryan exited with an apparent injury late in the second half.
Martinez, a fourth-round pick out of Stanford, now has 34 tackles in six games with five starts.
Coming off a down performance against Dallas, the Packers’ defense limited Chicago to only 189 total yards, 13 first downs and 69 rushing yards.
The opportunity to contribute to that quick turnaround was as meaningful to Martinez as the pick itself.
“I think we obviously looked at the game from four days ago and saw the little things we could’ve done to minimize a 100 rushing yards or those type of things,” Martinez said. “Every single play you could see, ‘Hey, if we had one guy in this gap we would be perfectly fine.’ I think (Thursday night) was one of those things where it’s like don’t try to overstep your boundaries. Just do your job and good things will happen.”