JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The instant Damarious Randall saw the Jaguars jersey flash in front of Micah Hyde, only one thing crossed the Packers cornerback’s mind.
With Sunday’s opener against Jacksonville hanging in the balance, Randall crashed through traffic and joined his fellow defensive back to stop a fourth-and-1 pass to Allen Hurns off a bubble screen to preserve a 27-23 victory for the Packers.
Hyde fought through the block to make contact with Hurns immediately after Blake Bortles’ short pass reached the receiver’s hands.
It gave Randall – and eventually safety Morgan Burnett –enough time to converge and stop Hurns for a 1-yard loss and put the game away.
“I saw Micah got blocked, I was just coming in to make a play and I held him up long enough for our team to pursuit and finish,” Randall said. “That’s what we’ve been preaching since the first day of camp. That’s what happened.”
Randall was right. All summer Head Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers spoke often about the importance of pursuit and finish.
Operating in zero coverage (no safeties playing back) with only 14 seconds remaining, the Packers’ young secondary knew what needed to be done and finished the job.
Jacksonville struggled on third downs against the Packers (4-of-15), but had been three-for-three on fourth-down conversions prior to that final play.
If the weather (90 degrees at kickoff) wasn’t already challenging enough, the Packers were operating without cornerbacks Sam Shields (evaluated for a concussion) and LaDarius Gunter (cramping) late in the final series.
It forced Burnett to play in the box as the dime cornerback with undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice filling his spot next to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety.
The Packers’ secondary had given up a few explosive plays to the Jaguars’ passing game earlier, which contributed to Bortles’ 320 passing yards on the day.
In the end, the defensive backs made the play when it counted most.
“Overall, everybody stepping in,” Hyde said. “ ‘Gunt’ got caught with (cramping), so ‘KB’ had to come in. We put ‘Mo’ (Burnett) in another position. We put me into the slot and kind of rotate around.
“That goes along with the coaches mix and matching us at practice and forcing us to play different positions. Luckily we all know the different positions and it helped us today.”
The Packers preached all summer about the importance of swarming to the football and it paid off at the most critical part of the game.
For Burnett – who was the only defensive back with more than three NFL seasons to his resume on the final play – Sunday’s exciting finish made for a perfect team win.
“It was a situation where it’s fourth-and-1. We have to make a big play,” said Burnett, who led the defense with eight tackles and an 8-yard sack.
“It’s us against them. It was just find ball, hit ball. That was my whole mentality. Damarious and Micah did a great job of slowing him down, so the troops could get there and I was able to cap it off and finish it off.”
Solid start for Taylor: All week the Packers’ players and coaches talked at length about the confidence they had in new starting left guard Lane Taylor.
On Sunday afternoon, Taylor repaid his team for its faith.
Taylor, making only his third NFL start, fit right in with an offensive line that helped power Green Bay’s run game to 95 yards and allowed only one sack of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Facing a tall order against defensive lineman Malik Jackson, Taylor went from a storyline during the week to an afterthought throughout the course of the game.
“Honestly didn’t even think about him,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “I just knew he was going to go in there, fight, and get the job done. He’s a guy who’s shown it in practice and through the preseason. We didn’t change our offense when we put him in there. We just kept doing what we’re doing. We trusted him. We knew he was going to get the job done.”
There was some uncertainty on the offensive line going into Jacksonville with Taylor making his first start following the release of Josh Sitton, and left tackle David Bakhtiari popping up on the injury report with back tightness on Saturday.
In the end, there proved to be little reason for worry. Bakhtiari played and Taylor made a positive first impression in his first appearance as a bona-fide starter.
“I felt good,” said Taylor, whose two previous starts came last December. “I made a few starts before, so I know what it’s like out there. I felt good with everything.”
Hot in here: In the postgame locker room, Packers players were throwing around an abundance of adjectives to describe how hot it was on EverBank Field Sunday.
The Packers did their best to prepare the players for the hot conditions during the week, but it’s difficult to duplicate such warm, humid temperatures in Green Bay.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lang said. “It was hard to breathe at times, especially that long drive we had (9 minutes, 14 seconds) in the fourth quarter. It was tough.
“It’s always something you need to overcome, but luckily for us I think it kind of wore them down at the end, too.”