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)
Eddie Lacy was 1 yard from his perfect ending. For 10 days, he’d thought about nothing else. The missed curfew. The punishment. The chance for redemption.
Lacy wanted to show teammates they still could count on him.
By the time the clock ticked under 3 minutes, he already had. Lacy finished with a season-high 124 yards on 24 carries against the Dallas Cowboys, plowing the Green Bay Packers to a 28-7 win at Lambeau Field. His final carry, that one last yard, placed the cherry on top of his Sunday.
Lacy had just fallen short of the goal line, hauling a bundle of Cowboys defenders 12, 13 yards on his back to get there. With the crowd chanting his name — “Edd-ie! Edd-ie” — here was his moment. When quarterback Aaron Rodgers “teased” they were about to throw a pass inside the huddle, teammates shot back disapproving looks.
Everyone — on the field, in the stands — wanted Lacy to get the football. They wanted him to get his perfect ending. Lacy?
“I was just worried about not fumbling the ball,” he said later.
Nothing better explains his wacky, scary season. Murphy’s Law has too often been applied. Whatever can go wrong for Lacy, he’s learned, probably will.
Sometimes it’s self-inflicted. The missed curfew. The weight issue. Sometimes it’s injuries. Sometimes it’s fumbling. There are many reasons Lacy’s third season has been his worst.
In Week 14, all of that was forgotten. Lacy looked like himself once again, falling forward into the end zone, leaping into the stands. Finally, a long week on the schedule could be put behind him.
“Just getting back on track,” Lacy said. “I know the last few weeks, things were a little different, but I think it was just the way to show me this is what I love to do and, without it, I’m miserable. And with Coach taking me out and going through that, it just showed me that’s not what I want. And by him giving me a chance to come out and redeem myself, I think it was just a blessing in disguise.
“It showed me without this game, without this sport, I’m not happy. I’m unhappy because this is what I like. So I think it was just something that had to happen to jump-start and keep my mind focused like I’ve always been.”
Lacy said it was “weird” hearing his name chanted at Lambeau Field. He estimated it hasn’t happened since his rookie season in 2013. Certainly, there hasn’t been much reason to this year. Sunday was only the second time he’s hit 100 yards at home this season. The first time, Nov. 26 against the Chicago Bears, came in a shocking loss to the Packers’ division rival.
Lacy’s best game of the season came at a critical time. Ten days earlier, he had been demoted for the second time this fall. After consecutive 100-yard games, his punishment in Detroit threatened to derail the only momentum Lacy had been able to muster this season.
Now, he’s reached 100 yards in three of his past four games. Back on track. It was more than the yards, more than the numbers. Lacy looked like himself, running over defenders and through tacklers and picking up extra yards after contact.
“I've always believed in Eddie,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We all make a couple bad decisions along the way, and that doesn't change my opinion of Eddie, any player. So he needed to refocus, and he did that, and you could see it from when we stepped on the field.”
After the Packers’ first practice last week – with four off days to stew over what happened in Detroit — Lacy showed his coaches the problems were over. McCarthy called his running back “rejuvenated,” almost like a new player. Teammates sensed it, too.
Fellow running back James Starks was constantly supporting Lacy, trying to encourage him. Starks said Lacy needs uplifting, not lecturing. He sets a high standard for himself, Starks explained. When he makes mistakes, he takes it hard.
“I don’t really got to talk to him much,” Starks said. “He’s hard on himself. There’s nothing nobody can say about him that he ain’t already said to himself. So me being in that situation, I try to come to him and let him know he’s a great back. He’s always going to be a great back. He’s got a lot of talent.
“He can bounce back, and he’s still Eddie.”
Together, Starks and Lacy have the potential to form one of the NFL’s best running tandems. They are lightning and thunder, speed and power. On Sunday, they showed it.
While Lacy ran downhill, Starks provided a nice change of pace. He finished with 71 yards on 11 carries, showing his speed on several plays, especially a 30-yard touchdown run that iced the game in the fourth quarter.
Sunday was the best example this season of how dominant the Packers' running game can be when Starks and Lacy click simultaneously. The Packers finished with 230 yards on the ground, their most in more than a decade (2004). The key, Starks said, was Lacy setting the tone with his hard, downhill runs.
“When he gets going,” Starks said, “it’s hard to stop him. I think putting me in there after they’re all bruised up and stuff like that is a great combination. I think it makes us dangerous.”
The question is whether success will be dangerous for Lacy. The last time things were going well, he missed curfew. Lost track of time. Lost his starting job.
The offense also lost its identity in Detroit, something they rediscovered Sunday against Dallas. For all the rejoicing over McCarthy regaining control of the Packers’ play-calling, it’s no secret what makes this offense click.
Without star receiver Jordy Nelson, Lacy is the key.
“Eddie ran the ball really well,” Rodgers said. “The importance for him is to continue to buy in every week, and be great about his preparation. Because, athletically, he’s as talented as they come for a man of his size. I think he handled his situation well. He took ownership of it, and that allows you to move forward as a team when there’s no excuses. So I give Eddie credit for that.”