Redemption Song

Nowhere can a person go from scapegoat to hero quite as fast as the National Football League. Packer Report's W. Keith Roerdink takes an in-depth look at Mike McKenzie's sudden transformation on Sunday afternoon. Another close-up view of yesterday's game that you can only get on!

In most professions, having a short memory is a bad thing. National Football League cornerback is not one of those professions.

Get beat for a big play, forget about it. Dwell on it too long and you'll have two big plays to think about. Let a receiver get in your head and you might as well hit the showers.

Mike McKenzie knows how it works. So when he uncharacteristically let Bears wideout Marty Booker run right by him for a 61-yard score early in the Packers' 34-21 victory, he didn't get distracted with the ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda's' that can become paralyzing for a defensive player.

Instead, the Packers' dreadlocked left corner went to the sideline with a simple statement: I'll get it back.

"I had never given up a play where the guy just pretty much ran by me," McKenzie said. "I was kind of keying, looking for another route and this was a ‘go' route. Right away I told the guys that that was my fault and it was all on me. And I told them that I definitely would get it back."

It took a while for McKenzie to redeem himself.

After Green Bay overcame a 14-0 deficit to close within 14-13 by the end of the first half, McKenzie got his first opportunity to make good on his promise. During the Bears opening drive of the third quarter, Kordell Stewart fired a pass to Booker under heavy pressure on third-and-11 at the Packers 48-yard line. Booker was hit and spun around by safety Darren Sharper and the ball popped up to McKenzie, who bobbled it before tucking it under his arm for an eight-yard return.

That play led to a Ryan Longwell field goal nine plays later and gave Green Bay their first lead of the game, 16-14. For a defense that's struggled all season to make the interception when they get their hands on the ball, McKenzie's pick was cause for celebration. But it didn't quite qualify as ‘getting it back.' McKenzie's best play, however, was still to come.

With the Packers nursing a 19-14 lead entering the final stanza, Chicago mounted the longest drive of the day by either team, a 12-play march down to Green Bay's 16-yard line.

Stewart locked in on Dez White on third-and-eight as the Packers came with an all-out blitz. McKenzie read Stewart and stepped in front of the receiver for his second theft of the game. Ninety yards away from the ultimate payback, McKenzie took off down the Bears' sideline. He picked up a key block from linebacker Nick Barnett and another from Sharper, who got in front of Stewart at the Bears 45-yard line, but McKenzie appeared in serious doubt of reaching the end zone.

"Running out of gas? I was out of gas," McKenzie said. "I was out of gas probably like 25 yards into it. It was one of those long drives and when I caught the ball it felt as though my momentum was going to take me out of bounds. But with all that green in front of me, I definitely had to take a stab at it and Sharper made a great pick up on Kordell, Nick hustled down and tied up one of their receivers, so it was a real team effort out there and once again the heat was on Kordell. He was under major distress."

Stewart caught up to McKenzie near the 10-yard line and made one more attempt at bringing him down. But McKenzie, who by this time was flailing his arms in windmill-like fashion batted Stewart to the ground before diving across the goal line.

"I love that to the dickens when you see a guy have a down play and come back and make a big play," defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. "I'm very proud of him and that's the way you have to play football."

McKenzie finished the game with five tackles and five passes defensed. The runback was his second return for a score as a pro and tied for the fourth-longest in Packer history with LeRoy Butler's return against San Diego on Sept. 15, 1996. It was also McKenzie's second career multi-interception game, having snagged a pair on Jan. 2, 2000 against Arizona.

More importantly, his play kept Green Bay's playoff hopes alive another week and provided those with short and long memories alike something to savor.

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