Clinton-Dix endures wide range of emotions

Michael Cohen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers' Ha Ha Clinton-Dix intercepts a pass intended for Indianapolis Colts' Phillip Dorsett in the first quarter Sunday, November 6, 2016, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

GREEN BAY - The mood of a locker room is measured by sound, and on Sunday the Green Bay Packers were hushed. Reporters flooded in as players wanted out.

Some, like cornerback LaDarius Gunter, who was beaten for an 8-yard touchdown before the half, gathered their clothes, their shoes, their backpacks and retreated to deeper corners of Lambeau Field.

Others, like safety Kentrell Brice, had watched the Indianapolis Colts return the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, so Brice sat in silence with his gaze pointing down. He fiddled with a pink bracelet and continuously shook his head.

But none of those players were Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the third-year safety for whom Sunday was a dichotomy different than the rest. In the first half he nabbed two interceptions and notched a punt-forcing sack. In the second he whiffed on a crucial blitz that enabled the Colts to run out the clock.

Indianapolis 31, Green Bay 26.

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“That’s all I’ll remember,” Clinton-Dix said after the game. “Until I play next Sunday, the only thing I’ll remember is the last play of the game on third down.

“That’s a play I let get away from me. That’s a play I’ve got to make, I want to make and unfortunately it did get away from me.”

Here are the particulars: The Colts, leading by what proved to be the final score, took the field with 3 minutes, 29 seconds remaining. Two first downs would win the game. The offense stared at third and 10.

Two hours earlier, defensive coordinator Dom Capers had asked Clinton-Dix to blitz from deep in the secondary with the Colts facing third and long. So he careened into the backfield and collided with quarterback Andrew Luck; the result was a drive-killing sack.

Capers redialed with the game on the line, and Clinton-Dix flew in from the quarterback’s left. He arrived in the pocket unblocked, untouched and with an unfiltered view of Luck.

For a moment, his two hands grasped the quarterback’s jersey. A moment later, they most certainly did not.

“Man, he’s huge like I told you earlier this week,” Clinton-Dix said. “He’s a strong quarterback. With the way you can go in, you can’t really go in and hit him low, so I took my chance high and I missed. He’s a great quarterback. I made a mistake and I’ll learn from it.”

Luck wriggled free as a surefire sack evolved into a second chance at life. He stepped up in the pocket and slid to his left. He threw back across his body. He unleashed a perfect throw to his tight end Jack Doyle, and the Colts had one of their two first downs.

“Guys fought their butts off all day long,” Luck said. “They really did a heck of a job. When we had to make a play, we did. Jack did a great job of getting open.”

The fight included Luck, whose two first-half interceptions kept the listless Packers afloat. And it also included Clinton-Dix, whose miss on the vital blitz worked to sully an otherwise tremendous performance.

BOX SCOREColts 31, Packers 26

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He entered the game as a poster child for a secondary that has underachieved. Though he had played every snap of the season — the only defensive player with 100 percent participation — the production lagged behind: one tackle for loss in the first seven games; zero sacks; zero interceptions.

Everything changed in the first quarter in a coverage ripe with disguise. Luck fired deep down the right sideline, and Clinton-Dix swooped in to make the play.

Minutes later, when Luck overthrew Doyle, one interception became two.

“God was with me,” Clinton-Dix said. “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

Added cornerback Quinten Rollins: “Just the hard work that he puts in week in and week out, you get rewarded on game day. A testament to him and his hard work, his preparation, getting in the right spot and making a play.”

But the mood of locker room is measured by sound, and Sunday the Packers resembled a pall. Because Clinton-Dix had whiffed on a blitz when it mattered most, and the Colts picked up those two first downs.  

Said Clinton-Dix: “I’ve got to move on.”

CHATMichael Cohen at 1 p.m. Monday


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