GREEN BAY – The regular-season finale against the Lions wasn't technically the first start of guard Lucas Patrick's pro career.
But in some ways, it was.
Patrick's only prior start came on a Thursday night back in Week 4, when the short time frame for preparation reduced on-field reps and film study. Nothing was certain about the lineup until game day, either.
Patrick filled in just fine that night at left guard for Lane Taylor, who had to shift out to left tackle with David Bakhtiari and Kyle Murphy both injured.
But it was his start at right guard in Week 17 at Detroit – following a game in which he came off the bench after the first play to fill in, with Justin McCray sliding over to right tackle in place of the injured Jason Spriggs – that Patrick really felt was his introduction to the NFL.
"There's a huge difference, knowing you're going to take that first play versus not," Patrick said about spending an entire week preparing to start. "There's a different mentality shift.
"There's a different feeling in your stomach. You eat differently in pregame. Your film study is elevated even more in just the minute, paying attention to things."
The 6-foot-3, 313-pound Patrick is thankful to have gotten that experience, especially playing, in essence, two full games back-to-back to close his second season in Green Bay.
It was another piece to the foundation for a young player whose career path has provided only one occasional building block at a time.
Patrick has no problem with patience, though. Undrafted out of Duke in 2016, he got a chance to try out with the Packers during rookie orientation. Not signed right away, he eventually got a call to come to Green Bay for training camp.
He showed enough to stay on the practice squad his entire rookie season, and then he made the 53-man roster out of camp this past summer as a reserve offensive lineman.
That allowed him to spend 2017 in rather unique circumstances. While learning daily from an All-Pro guard and possible future Hall of Famer in Jahri Evans, Patrick also shared a kindred spirit with his locker room neighbor, McCray, whose NFL odds were at least as long as his if not longer.
Patrick said he and McCray leaned on one another a lot. They also figuratively pinched one another occasionally on the way to the airport for road games, processing that they were about to hop on a Packers charter flight with so many players and coaches who have made names for themselves in pro football.
Patrick isn't there yet, of course, but it's a guarantee he'll keep plugging away. As 2018 begins with a new general manager in Brian Gutekunst, Patrick knows he'll have to continue proving himself to stay on the roster in his third season, but the change at the top isn't going to change his approach.
There could be an opening in the starting lineup at right guard, too, depending on what happens with Evans. Maybe he'll end up competing with his buddy McCray for it, but time will tell.
"I think I showed them I'm a guy who's willing to take it to the wire, whether it's between the whistles or to the echo of the last bell," he said. "That's kind of how I play. That's what got me here, it's not going to change.
"Hopefully I showed them enough to keep growing. I think this is the most I've grown in a season, including my first season where I learned how to buckle my chinstrap. I think I showed them I'm willing to take adversity and almost make it a strength."
The adversity came in the form of a broken hand that required him to play those final two games of 2017 with a bulky club cast, not exactly ideal for making a final impression heading into the offseason.
Then again, maybe he left an even better impression than he otherwise would have.
"The club limited me, yes, it is what it is, but that's not going to take away from my play style," he said of how he looked at it. "It's not going to take away from me knowing what to do. In that sense, I think I showed them my top end of that."
The plan is to pick up where he left off – only without the club – when the offseason program starts in three months. The time was immensely beneficial last year, as he made the leap from the practice squad to the active roster.
Patrick took a lot of pride in that, and rightly so, not just what he accomplished but how he did it. His patience and perseverance have passed every test so far.
"It's just hard work every day," he said, matter-of-factly. "Anytime you're willing to put in one day, get to the next day and then the next week, … and the next thing you know I've put in 17 weeks since I made the team.
"Altogether, it's something to springboard me into next season."