As we continue our countdown of the Green Bay Packers’ best plays of 2017, we move forward with play number nine.
Ten APC contributors voted on last year’s best plays, and today’s feature is Josh Jones’ game-changing interception of DeShone Kizer in overtime against the Cleveland Browns.
The Packers entered a pivotal December 10 matchup in Cleveland with a 6-6 record with four games to play. After winning a nail-biter in overtime against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just a week earlier, the Packers’ slim hopes to reach the playoffs revolved around winning out.
Those hopes specifically hinged on Green Bay forcing another overtime against the winless Browns, with the Packers trailing by seven points and under three minutes to play. Forcing a Cleveland punt, the Packers received a spark from an unlikely 65-yard punt return from Trevor Davis. The play fueled a 25-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a goal line scoring reception by Davante Adams with 17 seconds to play. The game was indeed heading to overtime.
Cleveland would win the coin toss and elect to receive the ball for the first possession of the overtime period. Two short-yardage gains on first and second downs set up a crucial 3rd-and-2 situation from the Browns’ 33-yard line. The Packers were looking to make a stop and get the ball back for a game-ending score of their own.
Dropping back to pass, Kizer looked the way of Josh Gordon, who had single coverage on the outside against Damarious Randall. Randall smothered Gordon on what was a designed short slant just ahead of the sticks, forcing Kizer to roll back to his left across the grain in search of a secondary option.
Unfortunately for Kizer, four defenders immediately began their pursuit of a sack, led by Clay Matthews who had maneuvered his way around right tackle Shon Coleman. As Kizer looked to unload a seemingly ill-advised rocket down the field, Matthews was able to launch himself into Kizer and hit the quarterback’s arm as he threw. The ball fluttered high in the air about ten yards down the field, where the rookie Jones was able to high point the jump ball amidst a crowd of Packers and Browns to secure the interception.
At first glance, it appeared Kizer panicked into making a rookie mistake with the game on the line. Further analysis, as seen in the image below, showed that receiver Rashard Higgins may have had Morgan Burnett beat deep down the field. Kizer admitted as much after the game.
“On my way back to the left I was able to see Rashard Higgins spin off of his guy and have an opportunity to go down and make a game-winning touchdown. One of the better players in this league was able to reverse field with me, get his hand on my arm, it left the ball in the air and they were able to make a good play on the ball.”
The play would ultimately set up a game-winning drive for the Green and Gold on a short field. Six plays later, Brett Hundley connected with Adams again for a 25-yard touchdown on a wide receiver screen on third down. The Packers would move to a 7-6 record and keep their playoff hopes alive for one more week in the absence of Aaron Rodgers. Interestingly enough, two players who played instrumental roles in this highlight — Kizer and Randall — would be traded for each other in the offseason.
Although the dramatic win would be short-lived with a hope-shattering loss to Carolina a week later, the Browns game proved to be one of the most memorable of the season. A number of plays came to define the contest in Cleveland, but few were as important as Matthews’ game-saving pressure.