Little-used backups deliver for Packers
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~Detroit – These were the two investments the Green Bay Packers could not afford to lose. On crutches, Desmond Bishop hobbled through players, equipment and a surge of media. In his shadow was A.J. Hawk – the other mainstay – dumbfounded.
Both inside linebackers suffered calf injuries and did not finish Green Bay’s 27-15 win over the Detroit Lions on Thursday.
“I just took off to run,” Hawk said, “and it kind of popped on me.”
A lot was pinned on Bishop and Hawk this season, nearly $54 million in combined contracts. Green Bay cut loose two reliable veterans at their position. And midway through the Thanksgiving bar fight at Detroit, Bishop and Hawk were gone. The extent of both injuries is unknown.
At Ford Field, it could have been a worst-case, code-red, brace-yourself scenario. Instead, at least for one day, rookie D.J. Smith and Robert Francois assimilated almost flawlessly.
Smith was active in the run game with four solo tackles, Francois grabbed a momentum-changing interception and the Packers’ chokehold on the Lions never loosened.
Two backups rendered to the inactive list and/or special teams all season delivered on a national stage.
“In my mind, you never know,” Smith said. “It’s next man up. You have to keep that going – ‘you never know, you never know.’ So with the defense, I try to take every rep like it’s my last.”
Smith replaced Bishop at the end of the first quarter. Francois replaced Hawk midway through the third. Side by side, they manned the cockpit of a game very much in doubt. The Packers held a 14-0 lead but the Lions were in Green Bay territory.
Francois isn’t naive. At that precise moment, he knew what Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was thinking. The ball continued to sail his direction.
Maurice Morris out of the backfield for 8 yards. Brandon Pettigrew over the middle for 7.
“You could see that they were probably trying to tag me, just being the new guy in there,” Francois said. “Any team would do that.”
After those back-to-back completions, Francois had enough. Stafford tried lofting a pass over Francois’ head to Pettigrew down the middle and the quarterback either underestimated the linebacker’s vertical leap or flat-out didn’t see him.
Francois trampolined into the air to snare the interception. One play later, Aaron Rodgers hit James Jones for a 65-yard Packers touchdown. Happy Thanksgiving.
“For me, it’s expected,” said Francois, who was inactive the previous five games. “I go out there to make plays. I don’t just go out there to be a nobody. It’s just a great feeling to make a play like that.”
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