GREEN BAY – A little more than three years ago, Bashaud Breeland came within inches of recording his first pick-six in the NFL after intercepting a pass from Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.
With only one tackler to beat, however, Breeland wasn’t able to elude Falcons running back Tevin Coleman and was dragged down just outside of the red zone.
Even though Breeland did get his first pick-six two years later, that moment replayed in the mind of the Packers’ fifth-year cornerback when he jumped Ryan’s pass intended for tight end Austin Hooper and this time brought it all the way back for a 22-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter.
The play proved pivotal for Green Bay on a number of fronts. In addition to being a key takeaway in the Packers’ eventual 34-20 victory, the play marked Green Bay’s first interception since Week 11 against Miami – which also belonged to Breeland – and the defense’s first pick-six since Week 5 of last season in Dallas.
“It means a lot to be able to come back and help my team win,” Breeland said. “I just want to be out there. Just to have fun really and show the team what I got. I've been on and off the field, I never really get to show them my true talent. I just want to go out there and show them what I can do for this team.”
It’s been a challenging year for Breeland, who was on the verge of signing a lucrative deal with the Carolina Panthers this past March before failing his physical due to an untimely offseason heel injury.
Instead, Breeland sat out all summer until finally signing with the Packers on Sept. 26. Soon after signing, however, Breeland suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out until Week 9 against New England.
He recorded 13 tackles and an interception in three games before missing the past two weeks with a groin injury. Finally cleared to return, the Packers appeared to be cautious with his snap count Sunday.
“It's been an up and down type of year for me,” Breeland said. “All I can do is just work. I can't dwell on the past. They did a good job of helping me work to get my body back. They took time with me and today and they were really doing that, as well. They didn't really put a lot of workload on me, and we had a lot of guys that stepped up to the point they didn't have to. I tip my hat to those guys because they really put in work all week and we went out there and got it done.”
If the defensive TD, coming a day shy of the one-year anniversary of his first career pick-six (a 96-yarder for Washington against the Chargers) wasn’t enough, Breeland also contributed on Green Bay’s other turnover Sunday when he recovered a botched snap by Falcons center Alex Mack late in the fourth quarter.
Breeland likely will play an important role for the Packers down the final stretch of the season, especially after Kevin King was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week due to a lingering hamstring injury.
“We needed this a lot,” Breeland said. “The emotions that were going on throughout the week, to really come in and show the world that even though with those distractions, we're still thinking about football.”
Necessary toughness: Receiver Davante Adams has long considered Lucas Patrick one of the toughest players he knows.
Pressed into duty at left guard for an injured Lane Taylor Sunday, the Packers’ second-year offensive lineman showed why he’s developed that reputation amongst his peers.
Scrambling up the middle of the field with 43 seconds left in the first half, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers appeared to be in the midst of sliding to give himself up on what turned out to be a 21-yard run.
At almost the same time, Falcons cornerback Brian Poole left the ground and threw his shoulder into the back of Rodgers. A scuffle quickly broke out between both teams with Patrick and center Corey Linsley running downfield to defend their quarterback.
“That’s our quarterback. Everyone knows that’s the leader of our team,” said Patrick, who got into a dust-up with Falcons linebacker Deion Jones. “He took a cheap shot, we felt. I didn’t like that, so I wanted to go down there and let the guy know. Lock him up and let him know that’s not going to fly.”
After referees separated both teams, officials called offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Linsley and Jones.
It was a busy afternoon for Patrick, right guard Justin McCray and right tackle Jason Spriggs who were pinch-hitting for an injured Taylor (foot), Byron Bell (knee) and Bryan Bulaga (knee).
For Patrick, making only his third NFL start, protecting your quarterback comes with his position – both as an offensive lineman and former tryout player at the Packers’ rookie orientation camp in 2016.
“(Rodgers) has been nothing but nice to a tryout guy like me. He’s had my back since Day 1,” Patrick said. “In that situation, there was no choice but to go get his.”
Lambeau Field hosted a Week 14 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 9, 2018.
A piece of history: With 12 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third quarter, Rodgers made NFL history when he threw his 359th consecutive pass without an interception.
It fittingly came on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, his longest-tenured receiver. Rodgers finished the game without an interception to extend his streak to 368 consecutive passes.
“He’s rewriting history books left and right, year in and year out,” said Cobb, who finished with five catches for 43 yards. “Obviously, we have so much history around here. It’s always going to be a special place to have that tradition.”
Matching game: As has been customary in recent weeks, the Packers showed a great deal of faith in calling upon 21-year-old rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander to match Atlanta’s Julio Jones on Sunday.
When informed of the defensive coaching staff’s plan on Tuesday, Alexander immediately got to work on the film and decided to test the All-Pro receiver with a heavy dose of press-man coverage.
“When I get on the field, everybody’s the same,” Alexander said. “(Larry) Fitzgerald, great receiver, but when we’re on the field, it’s a different kind of ballgame, different mindset for me. I just knew I had to challenge (Jones), get in his face and make it harder for him.”