A year later, Sam Shields no longer watches the “non-catch” against Dez Bryant.
Perhaps the most controversial play of last postseason came at the Dallas Cowboys receiver’s expense. Bryant was matched up against Shields on fourth-and-2 from the Packers’ 32-yard line, under 5 minutes left. He went high over the Green Bay Packers cornerback, caught the football at its apex, but couldn’t hang onto it when he landed.
The incompletion allowed the Packers to advance to the NFC championship game. It’s sure to be on everyone’s minds when the Packers host the Cowboys on Sunday. Shields said he doesn’t expect to hear anything from Bryant about the “non-catch” on the field.
“The last couple times we played against each other,” Shields said, “there’s never been any words. He’s quiet, and I’m quiet, and we just play football. I don’t think we’ll talk about it.”
Shields, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, could have plenty to talk about this fall. Though he has just two interceptions, he’s played well through 12 games as the Packers’ top cornerback.
It’s a new role for Shields, an undrafted free agent five years ago. He’s always had someone in the secondary to look up to. When fellow cornerback Tramon Williams left for Cleveland in free agency last spring, Shields was suddenly the top veteran on the Packers’ depth chart.
His elevated status come with more responsibilities. On the field, Shields has matched the opponent’s top receiver more than ever before. Assistant coach Joe Whitt said Shields has matched the expectations that come with being a No. 1 cornerback.
“He’s right where I want him to be,” Whitt said.
The matchups are never easy. One week, he’s covering Calvin Johnson. Another, he’s matchup up against Alshon Jeffery. In four games against the NFC North’s two best receivers, Shields has limited Johnson and Jeffery to 11 catches on 18 targets for 124 yards and one touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus.
Shields was especially pleased with his production last week, holding Johnson to three catches and 44 yards.
“To me, the catches,” Shields said, “you don’t want him to get it. But I did a hell of a job on him. There were some plays he made – that’s Calvin Johnson – but I think I did a hell of a job guarding him.”
Now, he’ll get another challenge.
Bryant’s stats decreased this season, a byproduct of missing five games with a foot injury and playing most of the season without starting quarterback Tony Romo. Still, Bryant remains one of the toughest matchups in the NFL.
Shields doesn’t expect Sunday’s test to be any easier.
“He’s the same dude,” Shields said. “Everybody goes through that. He’s been hurt, but that’s something you can’t think about. You’ve got to play him like he’s not hurt, because you never know. Everybody can still play when they’re hurt, and he’s one of them.”
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