GREEN BAY – On the final snap in Dallas, the most out-of-place player on the field became one of the most important.
It wasn’t the first time Green Bay Packers left guard Lane Taylor pulled outside as a pass protector. Blocking for Aaron Rodgers, Taylor has found himself in weird spots during extended plays.
But never this far outside, Taylor said. And certainly not intentionally.
With 12 seconds left in Sunday's playoff game and nobody lined up in front of him, Taylor pulled outside to the numbers as Rodgers’ personal protector. Turned out, it was a good place to be. With two feet on the “0” of the 30-yard line, Taylor blocked linebacker Jack Crawford long enough for Rodgers to find tight end Jared Cook down the left sideline for 36 yards, setting up Mason Crosby’s game-winning kick.
“It’s not technically designed for me to be a personal protector out there,” Taylor said, “but it’s just the way it is. I got out there, and I saw some space. I saw the linebacker shoot. So I knew I was going to stay in front of him. It was the perfect amount of time he needed to get the ball completed.
“It definitely was a good call. Because if the linebacker would’ve rushed, he would’ve rushed the throw. I don’t know if Cook would’ve had time to finish his route.”
Taylor said he didn’t have time in the huddle to think about how peculiar his block would be. It wasn’t until after the game, inside the Packers' celebratory locker room, that Taylor appreciated the moment. His was a key block, a sign of how the Packers’ confidence in him has grown this season.
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He wasn’t supposed to start all 16 games this season and play almost every snap. Taylor expected to be a backup in his fourth year with the Packers, until they released All-Pro guard Josh Sitton in training camp’s final cuts. Overnight, Taylor’s role became entirely different.
With the initial shock, there was a time this season Taylor was seen – at least outside the team facility – as a potential stumbling block for a Super Bowl contender. Instead, he has been a reliable presence in the interior of the Packers' offensive line.
“The biggest thing a lot of times with young players, or guys getting first opportunities,” Rodgers said, “is how they handle the entire season and being able to be available, and he has. I mean, he’s played through some injuries and battled and been out there just about every snap. So he’s been a big part of our success, not only in the run game. We knew he’s a big, powerful man. He can move guys in the run game, but in the passing game, I think he’s really improved his pass blocking.”
Rodgers noted how Taylor has benefited playing alongside second-team All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari. Indeed, one of the league’s best blindside protectors has made pass blocking easier for Taylor.
But there were growing pains in the beginning. Taylor said it took “four or five weeks” to develop their chemistry. Their last big blunder, Taylor said, came in the Packers' first game against the New York Giants in October.
Taylor remembers the Giants ran a stunt with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul curling inside defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. Taylor got picked, unable to pick up Hankins. Rodgers completed his pass, but Hankins smashed the Packers quarterback after he released the ball.
“It was kind of a later hit,” Taylor said, “but now that I look back and after we watched that film, I looked at (Bakhtiari) when we were watching it, and I was like, ‘I wouldn’t even get picked right here. This would be so easy.’
“Now we look back on it, it’s like, ‘We wouldn’t even get picked on something like that.’”
Chemistry isn’t built overnight on the offensive line. After three years playing beside Sitton, it took time for Bakhtiari to adjust.
But the Packers' offensive line has been one of the best pass-protecting units in the league this season. Yes, Bakhtiari’s emergence as one of the league’s top blindside blockers might be the biggest reason. Right guard T.J. Lang’s Pro Bowl season, right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s health and the Packers' depth at center also have been big factors.
Taylor’s reliability also has been impressive. On Sunday, his first season as a starter could lead to the Super Bowl.
“You build chemistry,” Bakhtiari said, “no matter what throughout a season. You go through stuff, you experience things, and you build your own type of language. You talk to each other, and you get a feel for one another. That just comes from playing with one another, playing with each other in the practice field and games, and just game experience.”
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