Midway through the second quarter Sunday afternoon, the Green Bay Packers were thankful they spent their first two draft picks on cornerbacks this offseason.
By the end of their 28-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, they had to feel really good about who they picked.
Sam Shields is unquestionably Green Bay’s top cornerback, which is why he started the game matched up against Dallas’ All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant. Shields showed why when he intercepted a third-and-goal Matt Cassel pass in the end zone on the Cowboys’ opening drive.
So when Shields left the game for good with 7 minutes, 25 seconds left in the second quarter with a concussion, things could have gone badly for Green Bay the rest of the way.
Bryant, after all, was expected to be at his motivational best Sunday. The last time he played at Lambeau Field, last January, he felt he was robbed of a reception near the goal line that could have turned the game in Dallas’ favor. Instead, the Cowboys’ promising season ended in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
But one of those Green Bay rookie cornerbacks, first-round pick Damarious Randall, replaced Shields against Bryant and shut him down the rest of the game.
“Coach ended up calling me up on the phone and said, ‘You got Dez for the rest of the night,’ “ Randall said, “and I was like, ‘All right, thanks.’ “
Bryant finished the game with one catch for 9 yards — against Shields — despite being targeted six times.
“I was just ready, just kind of ready for the moment,” Randall said. “I just think I had a great, great week of practice and just kind of ready to get out there and play.”
On the first play after Shields left the game, the Cowboys tested the rookie, throwing deep to Bryant down the middle on third-and-5. Randall had good coverage on Bryant and disrupted the pass enough to force an incompletion. Reminiscent of that January game, the play was originally called a 28-yard catch by Bryant but overturned upon review.
Randall was well aware of last year’s controversy and it must have seemed like déjà vu for Bryant.
“Yeah, that was kind of funny once I actually looked up and seen it,” Randall said. “I was like ‘Oh, God, here we go again.’ “
Bryant didn’t give much credit to Randall, instead blaming his disappointing day on other factors.
“It is what it is,” Bryant said. “There were some opportunities I had that I should have made, like the one in the third quarter where I am jumping and I shouldn’t even jump. That is all part of keeping your head in the game.
“I’m not going to lie; I am not going to make excuses. I am just telling you what really happened. I swapped out my gloves three times. I just wish I never put gloves on in the first place.”
Randall’s teammates, though, heaped plenty of credit on the rookie for stepping up.
“That’s D,“ defensive back Micah Hyde said. “D, he makes plays. That’s nothing new to us, we’ve been seeing him do that all year. That’s just what he does, he goes out there and makes plays and he’s a big-time football player.”
With Randall shifting to cover Bryant, the other rookie cornerback, Quinten Rollins, was moved into a full-time role on the other side. Together, the rookies helped make for a difficult day for Cassel, who completed 13 of 29 passes for a 41.5 quarterback rating.
“Those guys are steady learning,” cornerback Casey Hayward said of the rookies. “Nothing’s too big for those guys, and that’s the reason we drafted those guys to come in and compete. Like we say, if somebody goes down, next man’s up.”
Green Bay Packers players talk about Eddie Lacy's breakout game against the Dallas Cowboys coming off disciplinary measures for missing curfew prior to the Packers' win at Detroit. (Dec. 13, 2015)
Jeff Janis might not be making much of a contribution on offense, but the second-year wide receiver certainly is making an impact on special teams, especially on punt and kickoff coverage.
On Sunday, Janis had two tackles and one assist, effectively shutting down punt returner Lucky Whitehead, who finished with three punt returns for minus-6 yards.
“Anytime you can go down there and make tackles like that … you get the crowd going and it helps your confidence and makes you feel good,” Janis said. “I mean, you can kind of keep it rolling the next time.”
Almost every time, Janis beat the defender downfield and was right on top of Whitehead as he was catching the punt.
“Just using speed and hands, that’s the biggest thing: you can’t let them get their hands on you and hold you,” Janis said of why he was so effective. “So that’s what I was trying to focus on tonight.”
For the first time since the season opener, the Packers converted 50 percent of their third-down plays.
Green Bay entered the game converting only 35 percent of the time (52-149), which was 26th in the NFL.
But on Sunday, the Packers converted 7 of 14 times, leading to a dominant time of possession statistic: Green Bay held the ball for a season-high 37 minutes, 48 seconds to Dallas’ 22:12.
ON THE SIDELINES
Center Corey Linsley was the only Packers starter to be declared inactive against the Cowboys, but also sitting out because of injury were outside linebacker Nick Perry and wide receiver Ty Montgomery.
Linsley hasn’t been able to shake an ankle injury originally sustained Nov. 22 at Minnesota and re-injured 10 days ago at Detroit. He did not practice this week, and JC Tretter started in his place.
Perry’s shoulder injury, which required offseason surgery this year, prevented him from practicing at the end of the week. Montgomery hasn’t played since the Oct. 18 game against San Diego, when he sustained an ankle injury.
Running back John Crockett, who rushed for 22 yards on five carries in his NFL debut last week, was inactive, as was cornerback LaDarius Gunter, quarterback Brett Hundley and outside linebacker Andy Mulumba.
» The Packers are 28-12 (.700 and No. 1 in the NFC) under coach Mike McCarthy during the month of December, including 18-3 at home. They now have won 14 of their past 15 December home games.
» The Cowboys are last in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-15.
» The Packers have outscored their opponents 34-9 on game-opening drives this season but have scored only 6 points in their past seven opening drives after coming up short again Sunday.
» Sunday’s attendance was 78,369, the 316th consecutive regular-season sellout at Lambeau Field.