GREEN BAY - Blake Martinez thought he had the milestone three snaps earlier. A dozen yards downfield, he cut underneath Chicago Bears receiver Cameron Meredith. The football hit his hands.
Then it bounced off like a stone smacking against bricks. Quarterback Matt Barkley’s pass fell harmlessly incomplete. Martinez was incredulous. Couldn’t believe he let his first career interception slip away.
So three plays later, when safety Morgan Burnett batted Barkley’s ball toward the turf – and it deflected directly into Martinez’ hands – the Green Bay Packers rookie linebacker made sure not to drop it.
“I was running to the ball,” Martinez said, “to help tackle him and get ready for the next play. All of the sudden, the ball is popped out. It’s one of those things where, hey, you pursuit to the ball, and good things happen. I had to make sure I finished that one the right way.”
He looked like a rookie with his first career interception.
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Martinez popped up from the grass, hopping and immediately motioning to his sideline it was Packers’ ball. It looked like he got lost in excitement and forgot the difference between college and NFL rules. Jim Nantz, calling play-by-play for NFL Network, started to chuckle.
"Martinez starts to celebrate," Nantz said over the air, "but he's not down yet."
At Stanford, Martinez would be down as soon as his knee hit the field. The NFL rule dictates a player must be down by contact. But Martinez said the mid-play celebration had nothing to do with forgetting rules.
When he fell, Martinez explained, he thought he rolled over Bears tight end Zach Miller, thus making him down by contact. Instead, officials ruled he never touched Miller, and the play continued live.
It didn’t take Martinez long to figure out.
“Thought I was down,” Martinez said, “made the hand motion, and next thing I know I have seven guys running to take my head off. So I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to start dodging these guys so they don’t kill me.’”
Martinez showed about as much running back skill as an inside linebacker can muster. He stepped out of Miller’s tackle. He absorbed a hit from offensive lineman Bobby Massie, almost spinning out of another tackle. Alas, Martinez stumbled to the ground.
Seven seconds of scampering around produced four yards.
The play perfectly captured who Martinez is at this point in his career. An exuberant rookie, always given max effort. Sometimes, he gets a little ahead of himself.
The fourth-round pick is also oozing with talent.
Martinez' interception capped a night in which he led a dominant Packers defense with five tackles. It also gave him a highlight he'll never forget.
“It meant everything,” Martinez said. “I think it meant a lot just because I was able to finish a play for my teammates. It was one of those things where we work all as 11. I honestly wouldn’t have made that pick if it wasn’t for Morgan, and once again just kind of finishing a play.”