On Sunday, Jayrone Elliott had his NFL Films moment.
And yet, as a small crew of the award-winning production company stood just feet from the little-known linebacker in a victorious Green Bay Packers locker room, they failed to recognize him.
That must have been what Russell Wilson felt like a little earlier.
In what was billed as an NFC Championship rematch, Elliott’s interception of a Wilson pass in the fourth quarter helped put a cap on a 27-17 Packers’ victory over the mighty Seattle Seahawks, who dropped to 0-2 on the season.
“It was the biggest play of the game,” said teammate Clay Matthews.
It looked like the headiest play, too, even if it may not have unfolded that way. With the Packers (2-0) having just gone ahead 24-17 with 9:28 left, they needed their defense to make a stand. On the fifth play of the Seahawks’ ensuing drive, Elliott, from his outside linebacker spot appeared to snuff out a screen pass, stepping in the way of a Wilson attempt to running back Marshawn Lynch.
“I noticed Russell was dropping back kind of casual and he kind of just flipped it at the last second and I was in position,” said Elliott. “I was just playing the call that (defensive coordinator) Dom (Capers) drew up for us and just tried to make a play on it.”
In Wilson’s defense, he may not have seen the 6-foot-3 Elliott, who appeared to be covered up by 6-foot-5 right tackle Gary Gilliam at the Seahawks’ 42.
“I was just trying to rush the passer and I kind of fell back on to it” said Elliott. “I caught the ball and I thought I was Lesean McCoy with it.”
With intentions of scoring after a one-handed snag, Elliott made it only a couple of yards before being stripped by Gilliam. Luckily, he recovered his own fumble -- at least according to the officials; the Seahawks' Justin Britt emerged with the ball. The play set up the Packers’ offense set up at the Seahawks’ 37, and Aaron Rodgers and Co. converted the big defensive play into a 21-yard Mason Crosby field goal just after the two-minute warning.
Elliott’s interception put a halt to the Seahawks’ surging second-half offense. After gaining just 104 net yards and posting three points in the first half, they already had 148 net yards and two touchdowns in the first three possessions of the second half.
To say Elliott made the most of his opportunities Sunday night at Lambeau Field would be an understatement. After playing 19 defensive snaps in the season opener at Chicago (according to Pro Football Focus), he estimated he played just “5-7 snaps” against the Seahawks while also contributing on special teams.
“I was just excited to be out there on defense,” said Elliott. “You know, I get tired of running down full speed on kickoff and kick return. When I get the opportunity to play defense, it’s all fun. I feel like a little kid playing in the backyard again.”
To finish the night off, Elliott forced another turnover, this time a fumble, on the Seahawks’ last-gasp drive. Chasing running back Fred Jackson from behind following an 11-yard reception, Elliott chopped the ball out and Micah Hyde recovered at the Packers’ 31 with 22 seconds remaining.
“He just needs opportunities,” began Packers coach Mike McCarthy, “and that’s where you have competition going on throughout the week. Our inactive list is something that we set the plan on a Wednesday, we tell each guy that he’s competing to be up from the 53 to the 46. I think it’s healthy, and it’s no different for Jayrone. He just needed some more opportunities. He played big. He made two huge plays in the game that obviously factored in the outcome. It’s exciting. He’s always been an excellent player since day one on special teams, and I look for him to do more for us on defense.”
Last season, Elliott made the Packers’ 53-man roster coming out of training camp as an undrafted rookie. Though he was a core special teams player then and still is, he played just 54 snaps all season, the second-fewest among 24 players on defense.
Sunday night, McCarthy kept all his linebackers and all but one defensive lineman (Bruce Gaston) active, likely in an effort to stand up to Seattle’s strong ground game with Lynch (15 carries, 41 yards) and Wilson (10 carries, 78 yards). Julius Peppers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry got the majority of snaps at outside linebacker with Andy Mulumba and Elliott chipping in.
“We have a lot of depth here so I know I need to make a play when my time comes,” said Elliott. “I’ve got to be patient and poised and wait for my opportunity.”
And if NFL Films needed any more for Elliott’s story on Sunday night, he also said he made his one-handed interception with a “bum finger” and that he has practiced such catches on the Jugs machine in practice.
“Going out there and making a play on a national stage for a guy like me, an undrafted guy, I’m trying to get my name out there a little bit,” said Elliott, “trying to show guys I can compete at a high level and do whatever it takes to help this team win.”