Confidence, patience propel Packers safety Darnell Savage to big night against Bears

Jim Owczarski
Packers News

GREEN BAY – At midseason, Darnell Savage suffered a quadriceps injury that kept him out of the game against Houston on Oct. 25. He practiced on a limited basis and returned to action against Minnesota on Nov. 1.

To that point, the Packers had been limiting explosive pass plays, but had created just four turnovers. Savage was making tackles, but had just one pass breakup in his first five games.

After the Vikings game, the second-year safety out of Maryland seemed to find not just his health, but another gear.

Against San Francisco on Nov. 5, he nearly made his first interception of the season. He had five tackles and two passes defensed against Jacksonville. Then six tackles and a pass defensed against Indianapolis.

But more was coming.

On Wednesday, five days before Savage made two interceptions in the Packers’ 41-25 destruction of the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, Packers secondary coach Jerry Gray played the role of Nostradamus.  

“He’s young, he’s athletic. He can make plays on the ball,” Gray said of Savage. “He just hasn’t had a lot of chances. I think you know what, the more we keep playing the more chances he’s going to get. The next thing you know I think he’ll probably end up with three or four interceptions this year.

"He’s reading his keys faster, he’s understanding what he’s supposed to do, and now he’s letting the plays come to him rather than trying to make a play. That’s what you expect.”

Fast forward to Sunday night.

He’s reading his keys faster.

In the second quarter, the Bears were trying to cut into a 13-3 lead and had a first-and-10 at the Packers’ 38-yard line.

“I had a feeling that they was going to take a shot,” Savage said.

Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky tried to thread a pass to Darnell Mooney with Chandon Sullivan in coverage. But the Packers safety had recognized the play – Minnesota ran it against the Packers in Week 1 – and he got on his horse. Mooney had taken off up the hashmark and began angling out, and Savage just ran past him to the spot of the overthrown ball.

Savage, who ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in 2019, hit 19.53 miles per hour to track the ball down, per the league’s Next Gen stats.

Green Bay Packers free safety Darnell Savage (26) intercepts a pass intended for Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller (17) during the third quarter of their game Sunday, November 29, 2020 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay,

“Like people always say, it’s a copycat league,” Savage said of the route recognition. “So stuff that works, teams are going to find a way to get back to it.”

The turnover was key, as the Packers then marched 80 yards for a touchdown to essentially put the game away with a touchdown to go up 20-3.

He’s young, he’s athletic. He can make plays on the ball.

With the Bears having to throw their way back into the game in the second half, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine put his trust in Savage to read Trubisky on a third-and-11 play from the Chicago 25.

Anthony Miller started in the slot on the right side of the formation and angled deep across the field. Kevin King pursued and Adrian Amos was the very deep help, but it was Savage who got into position for another turnover as he started to chase.

“I saw him kind of turn up so I turned and ran and as soon as I turned and ran I seen his eyes kind of light up, so that told me the ball was coming,” Savage said. “I just looked back. I think I jumped a little too early at first, but I was able to make it work.”

Savage hurt his back on the play and missed some plays but did return. He said he’ll get a further evaluation late Sunday night.

Given the ball back at their own 47 after that interception, the Packers scored a touchdown to go up 34-10 about halfway through the third quarter.

“It played a huge role in the game, those two interceptions, especially giving us that great field position,” running back Aaron Jones said. “Any time you can get that on defense and then we had to score as well. You get a score on defense and your team is sitting pretty well and you know you’re doing some things right, so shout out to our defense for coming out there flying around and getting the ball out.”

In one evening, Savage matched his career-high in interceptions from a year ago and put himself ahead of the pace his prescient position coach predicted.

“I’ve always been confident,” he said. “That’s what gotten me to this point. I really think it’s just more so just trusting the process, just being patient. Patience is a virtue. Of course, you ask any ‘DB,’ they want to catch a pick every game, but it doesn’t always happen like that. The guys on the other side of the ball, they’re in this league for a reason too, so we just gotta stay ready and just trust the process.”

For a team that had four takeaways through the first seven games and now has posted eight in the last four, it isn’t a stretch to believe that having their first-round pick from a year ago beginning to fly around and play confidently on the back end of the defense hasn’t had an effect across the defense.

“Takeaways are always big,” Savage said. “It plays such a vital part in who wins and loses games if you really look at it and kind of track the statistics of it, so that’s definitely something that every defense has to preach as far as taking the ball away because the momentum shifts. It gives the offense momentum. It’s tough when the offense is rolling and then all of a sudden there’s a turnover; the defense has to suddenly change and go out there and stop ‘em. Takeaways are always going to be a crucial part of the game.”