GREEN BAY - Rock bottom is a grown man wedging himself inside a locker, trying like hell to disappear. Wearing pads and a jersey he broods alone, thumb scrolling across his phone, as teammates around him shower, dress and depart. He leans back into the deepest recess of the cubby. Eventually, an arm pokes forward to unlace his cleats.
Rock bottom is rookie running back Devante Mays, a seventh-round pick from Utah State, whose career began as a shuffle between special teams and the inactive list. He was the third running back selected by the Green Bay Packers in a year when general manager Ted Thompson chose three. And until Sunday, when the Packers hosted the Baltimore Ravens, he never had taken a snap from scrimmage.
As debuts go, Mays’ ranks among the most disastrous in recent memory for a player at the running back position. He fumbled his first carry when outside linebacker Matthew Judon drilled him two yards behind the line of scrimmage and pounced on the unclaimed ball. Two quarters later he fumbled his second carry, though this time the Packers recovered.
“I’m not answering any questions,” Mays said when two reporters approached him after the game.
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On an afternoon when the Ravens fleeced the Packers 23-0, the image of Mays withdrawing into his own locker was an apt summation of the carnage at Lambeau Field. Mays and fellow rookie Jamaal Williams — the only healthy tailbacks on the roster — failed to replicate the rushing success that iced a victory in Chicago seven days earlier. They carried 21 times for 56 yards between them in a game in which their quarterback, Brett Hundley, needed every sliver of assistance to avoid combustion.
“You know, we’re playing a defense that challenges you schematically,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I wasn’t going to come in here and line up and try to bang the football with, frankly, one halfback that I believed in, and that’s just where Mays is right now.”
The one halfback he believed in was Williams, a fourth-round pick from Brigham Young with an appreciation for contact. Williams had been thrust into duty a week ago at Soldier Field when starter Aaron Jones left the game with a knee injury and backup Ty Montgomery succumbed to injured ribs. In what amounted to the first consistent playing time of his career, Williams responded with 67 bruising yards to snap a three-game losing streak.
From the outside, it stood to reason the Packers would seek to recreate Williams’ success against the Ravens, whose secondary ranks among the best in the league for nearly every passing category. Establishing Williams and moving the chains would lessen the burden on Hundley.
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“Every game we try and establish the run to open up the passing game and stuff like that,” offensive lineman Justin McCray said. “We just didn’t do enough today.”
They didn’t do enough in part because they didn’t receive many opportunities, especially in the first quarter. McCarthy opened the game by calling nine passes against two runs and handing the keys to Hundley from the very first drive. The Packers ran play-action fakes, bootlegs and sprint outs — with Hundley often scrambling himself into trouble — as setting the tone with Williams drifted into afterthought.
When he did carry, Williams found modest success against a stout defensive front. His first two carries gained 8 yards and 6 yards, respectively, though he would never find a longer run. Six of his 18 rushing attempts gained 5 or more yards, but seven of them gained 2 or fewer. He converted on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter but was stopped in the same scenario in the fourth.
“I’m always running hard,” Williams said. “But today I was trying to not only run hard but, you know, try to make some open-field moves and hopefully try to get some big plays out there. Really you’ve just got to stay in the offense, wait for your opportunities and just keep going.
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“I ain’t worrying about carries and stuff like that. I’m just worrying about us moving as an offense, being one as an offense and being efficient.”
Mays received his first opportunity on the opening drive of the second quarter, taking over for Williams mid-possession. He fielded a toss from Hundley rather awkwardly, almost as if he wasn’t expecting it, and lost control of the football during initial contact. The Ravens recovered in Green Bay territory but failed to come away with any points.
It would take two more quarters for Mays to reappear after an immediate benching, and even then he only played because the game was out of reach. He took a handoff from Hundley and plunged through the line of scrimmage, where linebacker C.J. Mosley poked the ball free. Two snaps, two mistakes.
Mays hit rock bottom as the Packers did the same.
“We’ve got to make sure that he keeps his head up,” Williams said, “and when you get your opportunity again, make sure you don’t do the same thing because now you’ve already got people criticizing you.
BOX SCORE: Ravens 23, Packers 0
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“But really, we know what Mays can do. I believe in him, you know? That’s my teammate. I know that he will be all right, and next time he gets a shot he will do his thing.”