GREEN BAY — The comment, made in the euphoria of a last-minute victory, required an auditory double-take. But Ha Ha Clinton-Dix meant exactly what he said that evening at AT&T Stadium.
Nearly a month removed from the Green Bay Packers’ 35-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Davante Adams’ game-winning 12-yard touchdown catch from Aaron Rodgers with 11 seconds left surely remains fresh in many folks’ minds. But there was another play earlier in the fourth quarter that had been just as thrilling: Cornerback Damarious Randall’s deflected interception, which he returned 21 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 28-24 lead.
Although even Randall will admit that the play had an in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time quality to it, the fact remains that Randall, less than two weeks removed from what could have been the nadir of an up-and-down three-year career — being kicked off the sideline and sent to the locker room for pouting during a win over Chicago — made a crucial play at a critical time.
All of which impressed Clinton-Dix, who likely was one of the many veteran teammates wondering if perhaps Randall would be pink-slipped for his behavior against the Bears.
“I think that (touchdown) was big for him. It gave him a lot of confidence. It’s what he needs,” Clinton-Dix said then. “That was a big play, man. It turned the game around for us. It just goes to show, the guy has the most talent on the team on the back end. It’s all up to him.”
Wait … what?
“(He’s the) most talented DB we’ve got,” Clinton-Dix reiterated. “That’s the truth.”
Whether Clinton-Dix is right about Randall’s talent is hard to say, but this much is not: In two-plus seasons since the Packers used their first-round pick on him out of Arizona State, Randall’s performance has been uneven. He played well late in his rookie season, but injuries and inconsistent play throughout last season — when No. 1 cornerback Sam Shields sustained a season-ending concussion in the regular-season opener — were disconcerting.
Randall returned for 2017 talking about being a Pro Bowl selection, but with cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt running a meritocracy at the position, there were times in training camp and early in the regular season when Randall was an odd man out. Then, when injuries to veteran Davon House (hamstring, quadriceps) and top rookie draft pick Kevin King (shoulder, concussion) happened, Randall moved up in the pecking order.
Then came the trouble against the Bears, when Randall gave up a touchdown pass late in the first half, was uncommunicative in the locker room with coaches and teammates and was seen pouting on the sideline as the second half began and the Packers defense took the field without him. Eventually, coach Mike McCarthy sent Randall to the locker room.
According to several sources, multiple veteran players felt the Packers should have moved on from a player who some see as aloof and standoffish. Instead, McCarthy chose to deal with the incident as an “internal matter” – as it was repeatedly called – and mete out whatever punishment there was privately.
Randall has responded with interceptions in each of the three games since the incident: The pick against the Cowboys; one late in the second quarter against Minnesota on Oct. 15 that set up a field goal; and a terrific play against New Orleans when he trailed his man on a Drew Brees pass down the seam and snatched it in the end zone, preventing a touchdown.
“You have to say he’s responded very well (since the Bears game),” McCarthy said. “He had a huge play in the Dallas game. That was a big-time play (against New Orleans), too, (to) take points off the board. He’s kind of kept his nose down and has gone about his work. I’ve been impressed.”
If the Packers hadn’t lost fellow third-year cornerback Quinten Rollins to a season-ending ruptured Achilles’ tendon, perhaps they might have moved Randall at today’s trade deadline. That seems unlikely now given what rotten luck the Packers seem to have at the position, although there is a school of thought that Randall would indeed be a Pro Bowl-level performer in a zone-based scheme and is miscast in the Packers’ press-man defense.
“He can get the ball. That’s never been an issue,” Whitt said. “And not only can he get the ball, he has the ability to see the flash of the ball, which some guys have to track the ball into their hands. He doesn’t have to track it. He can catch the flash of it and catch the ball.
“What I want to see from him is consistent play. You know, not just these one or two games. Let’s make a season of consistent play and play inside or outside, wherever we need you to play. That’s what he’s done the past couple weeks and (I have) been pleased with what he’s given us. So hopefully we can keep that up, and not only him.”
Randall believes he can.
“Everybody here knew that I was a playmaker. It’s just about finding a way to get the ball. That’s something I’m accustomed to doing. I’m just looking forward to keeping it coming,” he said. “When you’re in the right place at the right time, things happen. Whenever you’re doing your job, good things happen.”