Chandon Sullivan's pick-six aids Packers' defensive rebound

Rick Wagner makes his first Packers start against former team

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CB Chandon Sullivan

GREEN BAY – Chandon Sullivan was made for these moments.

When the Packers chose to turn to Sullivan as their nickel cornerback this offseason, the former undrafted free agent understood the bar that had been set for that position and what would be required of him in Green Bay's defense.

If the play is there, it was Sullivan's job to make it.

As the Packers looked to close the door on Detroit in Sunday's home opener at Lambeau Field, the biggest opportunity of Sullivan's young career flashed in front of him when linebacker Rashan Gary pressured Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford into throwing an ill-advised pass in the cornerback's direction.

Sullivan, sitting back in zone coverage, intercepted the ball and returned it for a 7-yard touchdown to extend Green Bay's lead to 31-14 with 8 minutes, 32 seconds left in the third quarter.

"It was an amazing feeling," said Sullivan, whose pick-six was the Packers' first since Bashaud Breeland vs. Atlanta on Dec. 9, 2018. "It's just showing my hard work is paying off. I believe the quarterback thought we were in man, but we were in a zone call. Coach 'Pett' dialed it up and I was able to make a play, so shout-out to the D-line with getting pressure and I just took care of the rest."

On the next series, Sullivan came back and broke up a pass intended for Danny Amendola on third-and-1, forcing the Lions into one of their five three-and-outs Sunday. All told, the Packers held the Lions to only seven points, five first downs and 108 total yards (99 passing, nine rushing) in the final two quarters.

It's exactly what the Packers' coaching staff was hoping to see after the defense took a few jabs from the Lions early, with Detroit scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions to seize an early 14-3 lead.

"We just talked about it at the halftime," Sullivan said. "We were not pleased with how we came out on the first drive, gave up a touchdown, and that's unacceptable. We have a standard and we just hold everybody accountable to that. So second half, we came out, we wanted to make an impression early and we were able to."

Sullivan, signed off the street shortly after the 2019 NFL Draft, carved out a role as a dime cornerback in the Packers' defense last season, catching his first INT against Dallas last October.

Green Bay felt comfortable enough with how the 23-year-old cornerback played in spot duty a year ago it graduated Sullivan into the nickel role veteran Tramon Williams filled last year.

"It definitely was a challenge," Sullivan said. "When they gave me the opportunity to come in and play nickel I knew I had my hands full. I've just been trying to take my time, break down as much film as I can, ask as many questions.

"I still keep in contact with Tramon to this day, so I just try to prepare. That's where you get confidence from and I'm just fortunate that they gave me the opportunity."

Lambeau Field hosted a Week 2 game between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

A weird situation: As fate would have it, Rick Wagner's first start at right tackle for the Packers came against his former team on Sunday.

With Lane Taylor (knee) out for the season and Billy Turner still rehabbing a knee injury of his own, Wagner started next to fourth-year veteran Lucas Patrick on the right side of the line.

Both contributed to quarterback Aaron Rodgers being sacked only one time, while Green Bay scored 40-plus points for the second consecutive week.

It was a somewhat surreal experience for Wagner, who started at right tackle for the Lions the past three seasons prior to being released in March.

"It's definitely a weird situation to go against some of your friends from previous years," Wagner said. "We did a lot of hard work over there in Detroit and just have so much respect for that team and that organization, and it felt good playing against them and getting the win."

The Packers have allowed just one sack in their first two games, which is tied for the fewest to open a season, most recently accomplished in 2008.

Like last week in Minnesota, the Packers' offensive line once again had to make some in-game adjustments due to injuries and circumstance. Patrick slid over to center after Corey Linsley went to the locker room with a hand injury, requiring rookie sixth-round pick Jon Runyan to finish the game at right guard for the second straight week.

Receiver Davante Adams (hamstring) and running back/returner Tyler Ervin (evaluation for a concussion) also sustained injuries.

Ending with a statement: After giving up some big plays in the second half of last Sunday's 43-34 win in Minnesota, the Packers' defense made a statement with how it finished against the Lions.

On Detroit's final possession, rookie safety Vernon Scott sacked Matthew Stafford for a 1-yard loss before Rashan Gary and Preston Smith combined for another sack on the very next play.

Facing fourth-and-16, Stafford tried to hit Ty Johnson on a deep ball down the sideline only to have Josh Jackson deflect the pass for a turnover on downs.

"It just felt good as a defense," said Gary, who finished with four tackles and a career-high 1½ sacks. "Towards the end of the game, you could tell we had our juice, our swag. We're just playing free. When we play free, those are the plays that you see."

A different kind of Leap: Despite the absence of fans, Sullivan and running back Aaron Jones took it upon themselves to still execute the patented Lambeau Leap on the green tarps covering the first eight rows of empty bleachers.

"I definitely miss the fans, the pats on the helmet, the pats on the back, them screaming," Jones said. "But anytime I get in the end zone, I like the Lambeau Leap. It's a tradition we have here. Hopefully I picked up some sponsors, leaping on FedEx, Invisalign. … It's coming."

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