Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy talks about Travor Davis' breakout play against the Cleveland Browns.
CLEVELAND - For a moment, Trevor Davis appeared to be contained. Gunners flanked him from both sides, the Cleveland Browns' punt-coverage unit bottling up the Green Bay Packers' returner.
From the Packers 10, Davis sprinted 5 yards upfield. He made a cut at the 15, ducking right to avoid Browns receiver Ricardo Louis. As Davis darted to the opposite hash marks, four Cleveland Browns converged.
There was nowhere for Davis to run at this point, it appeared. The speedster needed to make something out of nothing. What came next, a hard cut left and afterburners to outrun the Browns coverage down the left sideline, changed Sunday’s game for the Packers.
With less than 3 minutes left and trailing by a touchdown, Davis’ career-long 65-yard punt return set up the Packers at the Browns 25-yard line on what eventually became their game-tying drive. Davis broke two tackles on the return, avoided several others and flashed the speed that has prompted the Packers to stay patient with their young returner despite inconsistency this fall.
On Sunday, Davis rewarded that patience.
“It brings energy,” receiver Jordy Nelson said, “but your chances of scoring a touchdown skyrocket. It was big for us. Hats off to him. he stayed alive when it looked like he was stuck three or four times, but he stayed aggressive.”
Davis’ return wasn’t the only special-teams contribution.
The Packers' opening drive Sunday was extended when safety Jermaine Whitehead converted a fake punt. Whitehead picked up 7 yards on fourth-and-2, stiff-arming defensive back Darius Hillary before crossing the first-down marker.
Whitehead was a running back in high school, and his instincts took over on that play.
“My man to beat,” Whitehead said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do out there.”
But the game-turning play came from Davis. The Packers have needed all the help they can get from special teams without quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
On a day when the offense and defense produced clutch plays, none were more pivotal than Davis’ return.
“Him and I had a talk earlier in the week,” coach Mike McCarthy said, “and I told him he’s the guy. He’s been on the cusp of breaking out. He’s right there, breaks tackles, and he has the ability to finish as you can see, as he did on that last return. That’s one of the five huge plays in the game that put us in position to win the game.
“I’m a big, big believer and fan of Trevor’s.”
It was a strange sight to see a Browns jersey inside the Packers locker room, but it was worn by the one player who could get away with it.
Linebacker Clay Matthews donned a No. 57 Browns jersey with his last name written across the back. It was the same jersey his father, Clay Matthews Jr., wore for 16 seasons as a Browns linebacker.
Matthews said his father attended the Packers' 27-21 overtime win Sunday.
“I got a special place in my heart for Cleveland,” Matthews said. “No doubt about it, especially with what my father was able to do here for 16 years. I brought the jersey, representing Pops. He’s here today, so I’m going to go holler at him after I’m done with you guys.
“Yeah, it’s really cool and really special. I’m sure he’ll give me a hard time, and make fun of me when I see him out there.”
Right play, right time
After struggling on third down all game, the Packers' defense made a critical stop to open overtime.
On third-and-2 from the 33-yard line, Matthews got enough to force Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer to retreat within the pocket. Kizer ran 14 yards backward, turned and heaved a jump ball as Matthews hit him.
The rookie would’ve been better off taking the sack. Instead, Kizer’s pass was up for grabs, and rookie safety Josh Jones outjumped inside linebacker Blake Martinez for his first career interception.
“When the ball was in the air,” Jones said, “I’m like, ‘First career pick. If I catch it, I’ll seal the game. We’ll get the ball. We’re going to score and win the game.’ So that’s what I was thinking.
“My eyes were huge. The only thing I was thinking about was, ‘Don’t drop it. Don’t let it slip out.’”
When Jones caught it, his interception gave the Packers possession at the Browns’ 42-yard line. The Packers won six plays later on quarterback Brett Hundley’s 25-yard touchdown pass to receiver Davante Adams.
The interception was a rare time this season when the Packers pass rush and secondary combined to make a game-turning play. It wouldn’t have happened without Jones catching the football, but equally important was Matthews’ pressure.
“I was just running after the quarterback,” Matthews said. “I was fortunate enough to catch up to him as he was getting rid of it, and it hit his hand right as he was throwing it. It was a huge lob, and Josh obviously went up there and made the play, which was huge.
“It definitely changed the way we finished this game.”
Hundley made plenty of clutch plays, but there was a crucial mistake he'd like to have back.
The Packers had a promising 13-play drive that could’ve tied the score to open the third quarter — perhaps eliminating the need for a dramatic comeback — stall at the 10-yard line. On fourth-and-1, Hundley rolled right as if he were on a sweep and was dropped for a 2-yard loss. He said after the game his job was to pitch the football to running back Aaron Jones.
Had the Packers run the play properly, it appeared they were in position for a drive-extending conversion. Instead, they came away with no points.
“That was just on me with the call and stuff like that,” Hundley said. “Just bad execution on my part.”