GREEN BAY—Tramon Williams credited his physical health. His position coach said it was Williams’ mental approach.
Whether one superseded the other may not be clear, but some combination of the two made the second half of the 2013 season some of the best football Tramon Williams has played in his career.
Beginning with the game against the Giants in Week 11, Williams intercepted four passes over the final eight games (including playoffs). His tackle totals rose, his coverage tightened.
Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said Williams was playing as well as he did down the stretch in 2010, when he became one of the Packers’ heroes in their Super Bowl run.
“I was just playing ball,” Williams said following the season. “I had an opportunity to finally get into form. For me to get back to the point where I was feeling my best, that’s what you get. You get that guy, you get that focus, you get everything that comes with it.”
For Williams, getting “into form” meant feeling fully healthy for the first time since that 2010 stretch run. A nasty shoulder injury in Week 1 of 2011 vs. New Orleans included nerve damage that was slow to heal, and even though Williams missed only one game – the week right after the injury – there were plenty of times he didn’t feel right over a roughly two-year span.
Then came a knee injury in training camp last summer that sidelined him until the final preseason game. He picked off a pass on his first and only preseason snap, but Williams was heading into the 2013 regular season playing catch-up physically.
Heading into MetLife Stadium in Week 11, Williams hadn’t intercepted a pass in 25 consecutive games, by far the longest drought of his career. His diving grab of a wayward Eli Manning throw in the red zone might have been the toughest grab of his 29 career picks, and the plays kept coming.
He nearly got his helmet ripped off in Detroit on a Thanksgiving interception, then thought he had two more picks in Dallas – one taken away by replay, another confirmed.
“I felt better than I have in a couple years now,” he said. “That played a big, big factor into it. When I’m healthy, I feel I can compete with anybody out there.
“I played through the injury thing, and you learn to appreciate being fully healthy. When you can do that, when you have that type of appreciation, you just go out and play, and I just went out and played like I know I can.”
Williams also acknowledged that with fewer concerns about his health came sharper focus on the field, and that’s what Whitt saw.
Whitt said heading into the Giants game, Williams told him he was going to “take one play at a time … not care about anything else.” His open-field tackling that day might have been more impressive than the diving interception, and his eight solo tackles were a season-best. In Dallas, he bumped that high up to nine.
The words were cliché, to be sure, but sticking to that approach worked and elevated Williams’ game the rest of the season.
“That’s when it changed,” Whitt said. “I was pleased with how he finished the year.”
That finish culminated with his interception in the wild-card playoff game, which prevented the Packers’ early 6-0 deficit from getting worse and sparked the entire team.
Williams also seized the opportunity to lay a big hit on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who squared up in the open field to tackle Williams after a 17-yard return.
“It was cool in the moment, but it would have been even better if we had won the game,” Williams said. “It was a momentum shift, but we didn’t quite get it done as a whole. It’s just a memory.”
Turning 31 in March, Williams plans on the second half of 2013 being the prelude to the back half of his career, health willing. He keeps himself in great shape, has a year-round yoga regimen he has convinced teammates to try and will be entering a contract year in 2014, barring a restructuring for salary-cap purposes.
Staying healthy gets tougher for all players as they get older, but judging by the last two months of the season, Williams may have turned back the clock just a bit.
“The age thing, I don’t really know how old Tramon is to be honest with you,” Whitt said. “You could tell me he’s 25 or 35, I don’t know. He flies around just like the young guys.”