After Hawk played only about 30 snaps the last two games, questioners asked Hawk this week whether he was unhappy with his role. Whether he'd consider accepting a pay cut to stay in Green Bay next season. Whether he thought he might be playing elsewhere next season.
"That's just the way this thing goes," defensive coordinator Dom Capers offered in his rebuttal on Friday. "Sometimes, you go a couple weeks and you don't play much, and all of a sudden, you're going to play a bunch. He's done a good job. I've not seen anything that's disappointed me in A.J. at all."
Nobody could have been disappointed in Hawk during Sunday's 31-3 throttling of the Cleveland Browns.
Against Minnesota and Detroit, the Packers played a lot of nickel defense, with the more athletic Brandon Chillar replacing Hawk at linebacker because of Chillar's coverage skills. Without the Browns offering much of a passing attack, Capers played most of the game with his base defense (Okie) and with a grouping in which Chillar replaces safety Atari Bigby (Big Okie).
Hawk responded to the extended playing time with a team-high and season-high eight tackles, including three tackles for losses.
"I felt good," Hawk said. "I think the defense played pretty well as a whole today."
For much of training camp and the preseason, as well as in regular-season games against Cincinnati and St. Louis, Hawk seemed to lack the full-throttle intensity necessary to play linebacker. Too often, he seemed content to absorb a lead block at the point of attack rather than take on that blocker with gusto.
Looking far more decisive and hell-bent on making a play, Hawk was one of the best players on the field on Sunday. One of his best plays came when the Browns' electric Josh Cribbs got the ball on a direct snap in the Wildcat formation in the first quarter. Hawk avoided a hard-charging lineman and plowed through fullback Lawrence Vickers to set up Clay Matthews' tackle.
In the second quarter, after the Packers gave the Browns a first down by having 12 players on the field on a punt, Hawk again beat Vickers and helped stop Jamal Lewis for no gain.
On first-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the third quarter, Hawk blew into the backfield on a blitz and got underneath pulling guard Floyd Womack and stopped Lewis for a 2-yard loss. That was his third tackle for a loss of the game; he had just one in the first five games.
Hawk wasn't perfect. He got lost amid a couple of blocks as Lewis broke loose for a 16-yard run in the third quarter. He got knocked to the turf at the line of scrimmage when he blitzed on a pass. He couldn't find the ball when he had a chance to make his first fumble recovery in just more than two years.
Still, he was a brusing, athletic force against a punchless Browns offense that has scored four touchdowns all season. Hawk disputed the notion that the criticism lit a fire under the fifth overall pick of the 2006 draft.
"Not at all, to tell you the truth," he said. "I felt real good before the game. I just think everything for this game felt pretty good. I wasn't trying to do anything different, I just wanted to play normal like I always have but I think I had some good opportunities today. Some games you get set up to make some tackles, some games you're not. Today was one of those days where I got to run around a little bit."
Due in part to Hawk's contributions, the Packers limited the Browns to 58 rushing yards on 21 attempts (2.8 average). In the last two games, the Packers have allowed merely three points and 288 total yards.
For one game, at least, Hawk answered his critics — even if he didn't feel any need to answer them.
"The funny thing is, the criticism is only when I talk to you guys," Hawk said. "It's satisfying to win and actually get in on some plays. As a defense, not giving up a touchdown in two weeks is good. It's tough to do against anyone in this league. It's a huge win and we have a big task next week."
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