CHICAGO — B.J. Raji says he’s got point-guard skills buried inside his double-wide body. “We always brag about basketball because we have a court up in Lambeau Field,” Raji said, “but they don’t believe me.”
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CHICAGO — B.J. Raji says he’s got point-guard skills buried inside his double-wide body.
“We always brag about basketball because we have a court up in Lambeau Field,” Raji said, “but they don’t believe me.”
They do now after Raji, conservatively listed at 337 pounds, returned an interception 18 yards for the clinching touchdown in a 21-14 victory Sunday over the Chicago Bears that will send the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl.
“The guy has some style,” said All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson, who was shifted to safety today.
Just like Raji always said.
“He’s always talking about how athletic he is,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “I’m like, ‘B.J., you’re like 300-something. I don’t believe you.'
“But he made a believer out of me today. To drop back in coverage and get an interception and run it into the end zone, hey, I’m a believer.”
The first thing the Packers did when they hired defensive coordinator Dom Capers and switched to a 3-4 defense was draft Raji in the first round. A massive, immovable nose guard is a must in a 3-4 front. But Raji didn’t even start as a rookie last year.
This year, Raji started and anchored a defense that allows only 15 points a game, second in the NFL to upcoming Super Bowl opponent Pittsburgh.
But Raji not only stands stout against the run, he’s got deceptively swift feet, swift enough to move into pass coverage on one of those zone blitzes that Capers is famous for.
That’s how he intercepted Bears third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie. Capers called a zone blitz. Raji dropped back from the line into coverage while a linebacker blitzed and scored his first touchdown since he was “playing 7-on-7 street ball.”
“It was pretty amazing to see him drop into coverage, read the No. 3 receiver and make a play on it and score a touchdown, which was ultimately the deciding touchdown,” linebacker Clay Matthews said.
“It shows what he’s capable of. And it shows what this defense is capable of. You don’t have 330, 340, 350-whatever-pound nose guards dropping back into coverage and intercepting balls for touchdowns.”
The Packers needed big games from Raji and rookie cornerback Sam Shields, who had two interceptions and a sack, on a day when Aaron Rodgers finally cooled off. The Packers’ quarterback had a passer rating of 121 or higher in his first three career playoff games, but sunk to 55.4 today.
The Packers (13-6) couldn’t score an offensive point the second half. They didn’t need to. Raji scored for them.
“Hey, man, that’s why they drafted me: To make plays,” Raji said. “That play, that’s unreal. That’s a dream come true.”
Raji even has a cool nickname covered. He wore a microphone during last week’s win in Atlanta and a team trainer told him he looked like William “The Refrigerator” Perry on one play.
Raji corrected him.
“I said I’m The Freezer. Just having a little fun with it,” Raji said.
“That,” Bishop said, “would be a good one: The Freezer.”
Raji certainly put the Bears' season on ice today.
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or email@example.com.