MINNEAPOLIS – The Green Bay Packers harassed Trae Waynes for a fair amount of Sunday’s game. He was targeted often, penalized a few times, and gave up some big yards to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ passing attack.
Rodgers looked in Waynes’ direction on a critical drive in the 4th quarter, hoping to further victimize the second-year corner who had struggled to that point.
Waynes wasn’t having it any more. After nearly four quarters of getting picked on, he punched the bully in the nose.
“Football is a game of ups and downs,“ Waynes said, “and there’s a point where you have to have a short memory.”
Waynes was starting in place of the injured Xavier Rhodes. When Green Bay needed to move the ball late in the 4th quarter while down by 3 points, Waynes came up with one of the biggest plays of his young career. His interception late in the 4th quarter essentially secured a victory for the Vikings in their first game in their new stadium against their biggest division rival.
In his rookie season, he picked off a pass from Russell Wilson in the Vikings’ playoff game, but that was after the pass was tipped in a game the Vikings led 3-0 and would go on to lose 10-9. Sunday’s interception came against one of the all-time great quarterbacks, and although it was in a regular season game, the magnitude of the moment was substantial.
It’s 3rd-and-14 and the Packers are trailing by a field goal, with Aaron Rodgers operating the 2-minute offense. He had just tried to go to Jordy Nelson on the previous play, but Terence Newman batted down that pass. So in the next crucial play, Rodgers looks to the other side of the field, where Waynes is covering Davante Adams. The Vikings brought two extra blitzers on the 3rd-down play – Harrison Smith and Captain Munnerlyn – but a quick release and Rodgers had the ball out, headed for Adams.
Waynes had stuck with the route despite Adams’ double move, and when the corner saw the ball in the air, he jumped in its path and didn’t let it get all the way to the receiver before he picked it off and iced the Vikings’ victory. He cradled the pass in his arms and held on for the interception. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer threw both hands in the air and did a couple little jumps in apparent joy on the sidelines.
Zimmer and others have talked recently about Waynes needing to develop an aggressive mentality to go after the ball in flight and make a play, rather than just being satisfied to shadow a receiver down the field.
On Sunday, he showed that exact trait, and in the biggest moment.
But the grades might not be kind when coaches review and critique his game tape, especially for all the penalty yards racked up.
It clearly was an up-and-down night for Waynes, but the head coach who is so often quick to nitpick flaws saw mostly good things from Waynes.
“The interception he made was huge, obviously, and he competed good all night long,” Zimmer said. “He knocked some balls down, he had some pass interferences obviously and there were a couple balls that got caught on him, so it’s all part of the learning process. I could have done a better job helping him at times; it wasn’t really in the game plan to work too much with 17 [Adams] … but the great thing about it was he fought and competed.
“In the end there, that was a great play,” Zimmer said.
Waynes was taken off the field for a series during the 3rd quarter after a couple penalties – a recurring problem for the Vikings on Sunday – but Zimmer said his substitution was because Waynes needed a breather. Rookie corner Mackensie Alexander entered in his place, but Waynes was right back out there the next series.
He didn’t quit fighting, even when the Packers were tormenting him for completions and going after him to pick up valuable yards on penalties.
“That’s one thing that [defensive backs coach Jerry] Gray said: ‘Keep being aggressive and keep playing. Sometimes you’re going to get calls your way,’” Waynes said. “Xavier [Rhodes] mentioned it during the game. He had a game like that last year or a couple of years ago. You just keep playing.”