A brief overview of three storylines that could help determine the outcome of the Sunday night showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
GREEN BAY – Everybody has a bad day. That’s what Green Bay Packers rookie running back Devante Mays has been hearing since making his NFL debut.
Brett Favre? Threw a pick-six on his first career pass. Fellow rookie tailback Kareem Hunt? Fumbled on his first carry with the Kansas City Chiefs.
It hasn’t helped Mays feel much better. He’d waited 10 weeks to get a carry. When that chance finally came Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, Mays felt ready. Instead, he fumbled. Then he fumbled on his second carry.
“I was just shocked,” Mays said. “I couldn’t believe it happened.”
What’s worse, Mays said, was his fumbles were completely avoidable.
On the first, Mays ran the wrong play. He expected to receive a handoff from Brett Hundley. So Mays took two steps toward his quarterback, but the football arrived before he could take a third.
He forgot it was a toss.
“I went down,” Mays said, “when I was supposed to be going out for the toss. So that’s what happened with that one. … It was a mistake on my part with the handoff. Because if I would’ve took the right path, I wouldn’t have been there, and it wouldn’t have happened. The guy got his arm in there.”
Mays had time to stew over his mistake. With the exception of special teams, he remained on the sideline until the Packers' final drive.
Mays might not have gotten a chance to redeem himself if the game wasn’t already over. Twelve seconds before the 2-minute warning, the Packers trailed 23-0. It was garbage time, but Mays wanted to show he was a reliable ball carrier.
He fumbled again.
“It was just my fault,” Mays said. “I’ve just got to put two hands on the ball, and I know that it’s my job to take care of the ball. Just got to do a better job at that.”
Fortunately for him, Packers tackle Jason Spriggs recovered Mays’ second fumble. He carried one more time, for 1 yard. After the game, Mays was distraught. He declined to speak with reporters.
Mays was still upset with the fumbles Wednesday. In a frigid practice at Clarke Hinkle Field, Mays was one of two skill-position players (along with fullback Joe Kerridge) to not wear sleeves. He wasn’t taking any chances with fumbling, even in practice.
“I was just really upset with myself,” Mays said. “I felt like I let a bunch of people down. It just weighed a lot on me.”
Teammates and coaches have tried to encourage him this week.
Mike McCarthy said Mays will get the same practice reps, and he’s expected to get another chance to be part of the Packers' run game Sunday night in Pittsburgh. Fellow rookie Aaron Jones, out a few more weeks with a torn MCL, made sure to funnel those Favre and Hunt comparisons.
“I just told him, keep his head up,” Jones said. “It’s not the start you wanted. But, hey, people have bad starts. Brett Favre came in and threw an interception on his first play. Kareem Hunt fumbled on his first carry, and look what he’s doing. Just keep your head up, don’t get down and don’t listen to what anybody else has to say. You know your ability. I know your ability, and you’re a better player than that.”
Favre went to the Hall of Fame. Hunt recovered from fumbling his first career carry to contend for the NFL’s rushing title this season.
Mays? He’ll gladly settle for a clean game Sunday night.
“I know I can play better than that,” Mays said. “I mean, the coaches know that I’m better than that. I just made a mistake. We all make mistakes, but I’ve just got to go out and do better this next time for sure.”