SEATTLE – Kyler Fackrell wishes there was some spellbinding backstory to explain his breakthrough season in the Packers’ defense, but the truth is there isn’t one.
The third-year linebacker didn’t have some mystifying offseason epiphany. He didn’t put on some incredible amount of muscle, retool his diet or work with an all-knowing pass-rush guru at some high-profile training lab.
The fact is Fackrell’s mentality hasn’t changed since the day he first arrived in Green Bay as a third-round pick in 2016. Just the results have this season.
So maybe that’s why so few outsiders saw this type of season coming from Fackrell, who now leads the Packers with eight sacks after tying a franchise record Thursday night at CenturyLink Field with his second three-sack game of the season in a 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
They weren’t just three irrelevant sacks, either. Often rushing against four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, Fackrell set the tone for the defense in what marked his first start of the season in place of an injured Nick Perry.
“I think it’s just the process of continuing to work,” Fackrell said. “I don’t think that it was necessarily any one thing. I’ve always studied about the same amount of film. There’s no big change I’ve made in any one area I don’t think. I think just playing free a little bit and then just continuing to work.”
Fackrell was in the Seahawks’ backfield all night, beginning with a 7-yard sack of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson on second-and-1 near the end of the first half. The play halted the Seahawks’ momentum and protected the Packers’ 21-17 halftime lead.
It still didn’t compare to the performance Fackrell put together in the third quarter. First, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound rusher batted a Wilson pass up at the line of scrimmage, which the Seahawks quarterback then caught himself on the way to an 11-yard loss and a quick three-and-out.
On the next series, Fackrell dropped Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny for a 2-yard loss before sacking Wilson for another minus-2 yards on the way to a much-needed three-and-out for the defense.
Fackrell brought Wilson down one final time for an 11-yard loss in the fourth quarter, pushing Seattle out of the red zone and forcing the Seahawks to settle for a Sebastian Janikowski 43-yard field goal to preserve a 21-20 Packers lead at the time.
After recording five sacks in his first 29 regular-season games, Fackrell began to show serious signs of play-making ability when he recorded three sacks against Buffalo in September prior to doing it again in Seattle.
“I’m so proud and happy for him, especially with the slack that he takes from the media and just with his demeanor,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “But the way he’s played this year, he’s really come on as of late when we’ve asked him to do a number of things. It’s truly remarkable.”
Whatever criticism he received early on, Fackrell didn’t let it get to him in the locker room or on the field. After Thursday’s game, Fackrell could have used his platform to say I told you so, but he didn’t.
Instead, Fackrell lamented the plays he and the defense didn’t make against the Seahawks, who nearly went three-and-out on their first three possessions of the second half before officials overturned a 27-yard pass to David Moore that originally was ruled an incompletion on third-and-7 at the Seattle 6.
Meanwhile, his career night came with a caveat – defeat.
“It would be a lot better if we won,” said Fackrell, who finished with six tackles and four quarterback hits. “I’m happy, for the most part, with how I played. I think I left plays out there. And obviously we lost, so it’s bittersweet.”
Fackrell is pleased to see returns on the work he’s put into his development the past two years. After Green Bay’s 22-0 win over Buffalo in Week 4, Fackrell said he wouldn’t be happy if his season ended with just those three sacks against the Bills.
Although Fackrell credits some of his opportunities to the attention Matthews gets on the other side of the line, Matthews praised his fellow linebacker for coming into his own.
With injuries continuing to mount on defense, the Packers are going to need their budding playmaker.
“I can’t say enough about his play, and, I mean, he’s playing really, really well,” said Matthews of Fackrell. “He needs to get some notoriety, because I know people don’t know his name, but they ought to after tonight.”