Keisean Nixon's historic drive to the end zone propels Packers

NFL’s leading kickoff returner scored 105-yard touchdown the first time he touched the ball

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Green Bay Packers cornerback Keisean Nixon returns a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown in the Packers' 41-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023.

GREEN BAY – Keisean Nixon did everything he could do to be on the field Sunday.

The NFL's leading kickoff returner neither practiced nor ran all week in hope that his nagging groin injury would feel good enough to play in the Packers' pivotal matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

When he woke up Nixon didn't just feel good – he felt, well, let him explain.

"I texted the coaches this morning like, I feel like a Ferrari," Nixon said. "(They're) like, 'Huh?' I said, 'I feel like a Ferrari.' Came here, just ran around, I'm like, ready to go. So I'm playing."

Nixon looked like it, too, as he returned the Vikings' first kickoff for a 105-yard touchdown to propel the Packers to a 41-17 victory in front of 78,190 at Lambeau Field. It was the first of Nixon's career and the third longest kickoff return in team history, behind only Randall Cobb's 108-yarder in 2011 against New Orleans and Al Carmichael's 106-yard return against the Chicago Bears in 1956.

Nixon's touchdown, and the series of blocks that led to it, couldn't have come with better timing. Moments earlier, the Packers' special teams had a punt blocked that put the Vikings on the Green Bay 1-yard line. The defensive front held, forcing the Vikings to settle for a 21-yard Greg Joseph field goal.

It's the only lead Minnesota would have the entire game, as Nixon's touchdown began a run of 41 consecutive points scored by the Packers. It's the type of play Green Bay has been expecting the fourth-year veteran to make after rocketing to the league lead in kickoff return average (27.5 yards per return) over the past two months.

Nixon nearly had it last week in Miami but got dragged down at the Dolphins' 7-yard line following a 93-yard return. Cornerback Rasul Douglas gave him a little grief afterwards for coming up short but ran side-by-side with him en route to the Lambeau Field's south end zone.

"We needed it," Douglas said. "I knew he was going to the house. They drew that up all week. If you hit it, you're going to the house. He did a good job. I'm so happy for him."

According to Elias, Nixon is the only Packer to post a 90-plus-yard kickoff return in back-to-back games over the last 45 seasons and is only the third NFL player to accomplish that feat in back-to-back games in the same season over that time span (Tony Horne, 1999; Byron Hanspard, 1997).

In the process, Nixon notched his seventh consecutive game with 90-plus kickoff return yards on five or fewer returns, the second-longest streak in NFL history behind only Glyn Milburn (eight-game streak in 1996).

Nixon now has a league-best six games this season with 100-plus yards on kickoff returns, tying Dave Hampton (1971) for the most in a season by a Packer (since 1950). His six this season are the most by an NFL player since 2013 (Cordarrelle Patterson, eight; Devin Hester, six).

Asked what he saw on the 105-yard return, Nixon deadpanned: "the kicker," because of how well the Packers' return team blocked on the play. Resigned to the fact he wouldn't be able to play because he didn't practice Friday, Nixon was proud to push through and come up when his team needed him most.

See scenes from the New Year's Day matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on Jan. 1, 2023.

"I was down actually all week. I thought I wasn't going to play," said Nixon, who is now averaging 30.0 yards per kickoff return this season. "Guys always told me, just pray on it and you'll be all right. It was just like see how I feel and if I'm ready to go Sunday we know you're going to play, we know you want to play. So, just praying about it and resting. Just needed a spark and I was a spark for us."

Nixon's return was the first domino to fall during four quarters of dominant football for the Packers. Shortly after Nixon's big play, safety Darnell Savage returned a Kirk Cousins interception for a 75-yard touchdown.

You have to travel all the way back to Oct. 30, 1967, for the last time the Packers had a kickoff-return touchdown and touchdown off an interception. The Packers beat the St. Louis Cardinals that day, 31-23.

Kicker Mason Crosby, now in his 16th NFL season, has seen a lot of special talents come through Green Bay over the years, including Cobb. But the impact Nixon has had over a span of two months is unquantifiable.

"He's special. He's so sudden," kicker Mason Crosby said. "The guys, like we saw for a long time with Devin Hester, you sense that urgency for guys to get on their blocks and execute the plays really well. He is just electric. It's fun to watch. He makes a hard cut and he's just gone."

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