A quick overview of three storylines that could help determine the outcome of Sunday afternoon's showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys.
GREEN BAY - When the Green Bay Packers returned to practice Wednesday, cornerback Damarious Randall was back on the field with his teammates, just like his coach promised late last week.
Randall took part in position drills and walkthroughs as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn’t been benched against the Chicago Bears and sent to the locker room early by coach Mike McCarthy, continuing on with preparations for the Dallas Cowboys.
The incident, according to the Packers, is behind them.
“As far as getting ready for football games, we’re going about it like we always have,” McCarthy said. “Damarious Randall’s situation is, it’s internal, it’s been addressed and we’re moving forward.”
Nonetheless, Randall spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since the Packers defeated the Bears last week. It was his first chance to explain the touchdown pass shortly before halftime that seemed to serve as a fuse, or the sideline confrontation with a member of the coaching staff, or the decision by McCarthy to kick Randall off the field before the game finished.
In the end, Randall said very little about anything in a group interview lasting just shy of six minutes. He would not discuss the specifics of what took place and used the phrase “internal matter” seven times.
Here is Randall on what happened against the Bears: “A lot of y’all was explaining, wasn’t you? It was an internal matter, and everything is handled.”
On what he learned from the experience: “Just kind of growing up. Just being a little bit more professional.”
On what happened during the touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Kendall Wright: “I mean, you watched the play. They scored a touchdown."
On whether there was a miscommunication in the secondary on that play: “It was an internal matter, man.”
On what his gestures and body language meant after the touchdown: “I mean, a lot of you all wrote about it like you all know everything. I mean, obviously you all must know everything so I should be asking you all what happened.”
Randall, a former first-round pick, had played a solid game as a starter in the base defense up until the closing seconds of the first half, when Wright ran by him for an easy touchdown reception. From there his night derailed with poor body language, pouting along the sideline and some kind of conversation with a coach that led McCarthy to send him to the locker room long before the game ended.
Randall denied an argument or discussion of any kind along the bench but said he met with McCarthy and spoke to his teammates the following day in an attempt to clear the air.
“It’s over with,” fellow cornerback Davon House said. “I don’t think anyone is taking him apart or anything like that. Damarious is a good player. Even in last week’s game, he probably graded out the best of anyone. He did a good job tackling, he did a good job covering. So I don’t think — I mean, we’re all family here.
“It probably was just emotional. Probably emotions flying around. That’s probably a question for him, but it happened. I don’t think anybody is even worried about it anymore. We’re happy to have him back. He’s said what he needed to say, and everyone forgives him and whatnot.”
With Randall benched, the Packers turned to former undrafted free agent Josh Hawkins as the No. 2 corner opposite Kevin King. Hawkins played aggressively from the start and closed down receivers quickly at the top of their routes. He had five tackles and three passes defended while playing 40 of 64 possible snaps.
The performance impressed both House, who said he “loved” the way Hawkins played, and McCarthy, who offered plenty of praise during his Wednesday news conference.
“I thought he played well on defense,” McCarthy said. “He's got too many penalties on special teams, but he's doing a lot of good things. Josh has made a big jump from last year. Really proud with his progress and more importantly his attitude and approach. He did some good things against Chicago that he can build off of, but that's what you look for. You look for guys that when they get an opportunity to take advantage of it. He did that on defense last week.”
While Randall said he didn’t know if last week’s incident would influence his playing time moving forward, the distribution of reps is tied mostly to the health of House, who missed the last two games with a quad injury.
If House returns in Dallas — he was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice — defensive coordinator Dom Capers is likely to pair him with King in the base defense, which figures to be used quite often against the formidable Cowboys running game. And with safety Morgan Burnett filling the nickel role of late, Randall and Quinten Rollins could be left fighting for scraps in the dime package as the No. 4 cornerback.
Either way, the sooner Randall gets back on the field, the sooner he will distance himself from the unsightly banishment last week.
"It's already behind me," Randall said. "After Friday, it's just been behind me and just taking it day by day."