Eddie Lacy doesn’t feel the need to reassure teammates he’s committed to the game, even at the end of an underwhelming season.
Almost nothing has gone right this season for the Green Bay Packers starting running back. He has been demoted not once, but twice in the past month. His second demotion came after he missed curfew last week in Detroit.
If not for his off-field mistake – “I lost track of time,” Lacy said Wednesday – his lack of production could warrant a benching. After consecutive 1,100-yard seasons, Lacy is on track to finish his third NFL season with fewer than 700 yards.
Still, Lacy said, he doesn’t expect teammates and coaches to doubt his commitment. He “had a talk” with Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Thursday before the game in Detroit, the details of which he would not share with the media.
Clearly, it was a chance for the head coach to get his message across to his underachieving running back.
“We had a conversation internally,” Lacy said, “and they know that whenever I'm out on the field I'm going to do exactly what I have to do. I'm not a guy that makes a lot of mistakes, or bad things off the field, either. So that's something they know they don't have to worry about.
“We put it behind us, and we’re moving forward. I think we both got things out in that conversation, and we’re both moving forward from that incident.”
Lacy was apparently “downstairs” in the team hotel late Dec. 2, when he missed curfew a night before the Packers played the Lions at Ford Field. He wasn’t alone.
Backup running back Alonzo Harris also missed curfew, and he was released from the 53-man roster the next day. The Packers will not sign the undrafted rookie to their practice squad, a league source said last week.
Lacy said he was “devastated” to see the Packers cut Harris, a close friend. Without a doubt, Harris received the harsher punishment, a sign of how important Lacy remains to the Packers.
It would be easy to forget how much the Packers need Lacy after last week. He finished with four yards on five carries against the Lions and did not touch the football in the second half. His 19 snaps were two fewer than fullback John Kuhn.
Lacy said it was “extremely hard” to watch as the Packers mounted their comeback. What did the punishment teach him?
“Just be aware of time, honestly,” he said. “It’s a life lesson. It’s a lesson learned, and then it’s something that you move forward from.”
Lacy’s promise – “on the field I’m going to do exactly what I have to do” – doesn’t carry as much weight this fall. For most of 12 games, he hasn’t.
Entering his third season, there were big expectations for the former Pro Bowler and 2013 offensive rookie of the year. His 517 rushing yards and two touchdowns at the three-quarters pole doesn’t come close to meeting them.
“It’s a long year,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “and there’s going to be ups and downs throughout the year. I think we just need to stay level-headed. You can inspire guys, but motivation comes from within – like I’ve said many times – and Eddie has great motivation. He’s a great football player. He understands how to play the game, and he’s ready to play every week. It’s just about getting an opportunity.
“When you see he’s gotten 20-plus carries, he’s made the most of his opportunities.”
Maybe Lacy can turn his season around in the final month.
He was starting to find his rhythm before Detroit, rushing for 100 yards in consecutive regular-season games for the first time in his career. Earlier this week, McCarthy said Lacy looked “rejuvenated” in practice. Everything Lacy wants to accomplish is still possible, he said.
McCarthy sounded like a coach willing to give a third chance, but the extent of Lacy’s demotion won’t be known until Sunday when the Packers host the Cowboys at Lambeau Field. The last time Lacy lost his starting job, he responded with the two straight 100-yard games. Now, he’s again seeking redemption.
"Just play football,” Lacy said. “Stick to what I know. Every game isn't going to be easy. Every game isn't going to be 100 yards. But just limit turnovers, fall forward, get what I can, and just keep moving.
“Whenever I get another opportunity, I’m going to keep rolling.”
Rodgers, for one, doesn’t doubt his running back. He’s aware how important Lacy could be down the stretch, especially without star receiver Jordy Nelson. The Packers offense has struggled to find its identity throughout the year, Rodgers admitted. With the temperature dropping and playoffs approaching, getting Lacy on track may remain the best possible cure.
“Without a doubt,” Rodgers said, “we have a confidence in Eddie. We’ve had a lot of backs around here over the years who have been great cold-weather backs. Ryan Grant, for years, was a better runner in November, December and January than he was in the first couple of months of the season. Eddie is the same way.
“He’s a tough guy to tackle. He’s a bowling ball out there. He’s a smart guy. He’s a good runner. He’s very agile for a guy his size, and we’re going to need him to play for us and be consistent.”
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