Jennings' Focus Beyond 'Fail Mary'
S M.D. Jennings (Joe Nicholson/USP)
S M.D. Jennings (Joe Nicholson/USP)
The Associated Press
Posted Aug 22, 2013


M.D. Jennings is in the middle of a heated battle against Jerron McMillian for the starting safety spot once held by Charles Woodson.

Green Bay Packers safety M.D. Jennings stood in front of his locker and patiently answered every question about the final play in last year's Seahawks game. Yes, that one, with the replacement referees and Golden Tate's disputed touchdown.

For as much as others bring up the infamous call, Jennings isn't stuck in the past. He'll have more pressing matters on his mind when Seattle visits Lambeau Field for a preseason game Friday night.

The post-Charles Woodson era is under way in the Green Bay secondary, where Jennings is locked in a training camp duel with Jerron McMillan at strong safety.

"It's close, close enough that we haven't made a decision yet," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "It will probably come down to the end."

Well, Friday night represents a chance for Jennings to create some separation — and maybe exorcise some bad memories, too.

"All the time, it's something that's stuck with me unfortunately," Jennings said about the play. "It's something that I'm trying to get over. I don't want to be remembered by that play. I just try to go out there and play football."

As if the task of following veteran defensive leader Woodson wasn't tough enough. Released in the offseason in a cost-cutting move by Green Bay after seven years, the 36-year-old Woodson is back with the Oakland Raiders, the team that originally drafted him in 1998.

Not that the Packers aren't used to playing without Woodson, who missed the last nine games of the 2012 regular season because of a broken right collarbone. Woodson did play in the team's two postseason games.

Woodson, the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, was one of the most respected players in the locker room.

"It was an honor and a blessing to play with a Hall of Fame player like Charles Woodson, just to be able to be around him, watch him work on and off the field," free safety Morgan Burnett said.

"Now it's time for us to apply it to the game and grow from it."

Burnett, a third-round pick from Georgia Tech in 2010, is a lock after signing an offseason extension. He's started all 36 games in which he's appeared in three seasons, compiling 259 tackles and six interceptions.

Still, one of the lasting memories of the offseason was how the defense got torched by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in the playoffs. Green Bay gave up too many big plays overall in 2012.

The Packers got help up front in the draft in first-round pick Datone Jones, a defensive end from UCLA. But the team didn't draft a safety, leaving Jennings and McMillan to compete.

Jennings is in his third year out of Arkansas State. He impressed enough last season that he started 10 games, and replaced Woodson in the lineup for the final nine regular-season contests. Perry called Jennings a "go-get-the-ball kind of a guy and sure tackler."

McMillan, in his second year out of Maine, played every game last year off the bench. "He's effective up there near the line of scrimmage, a little bit more a thumper. Mentally, both of those guys have been sharp," Perry said.

Both players are expected to get more reps this Friday, in what's considered the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. Typically, NFL teams give starters limited — if any — playing time in the fourth preseason game, mostly to limit chances of injury.

Memories of last year's Seahawks game are sure to linger among fans at Lambeau Field on Friday night even if the Packers themselves are downplaying questions about the play.

"I think that it's funny that a year later people are still talking about it ..." Tate said this week. "I'm in the record books for that play."

The disputed touchdown catch on the final play of the 14-12 win will be forever remembered as the tipping point in helping push aside replacement referees and getting the NFL's regular officials back on the field. Here's a refresher on the call:

—Side judge Lance Easley signaled touchdown, citing simultaneous possession with Jennings.

—Back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn waved his arms to stop the clock.

—Referee Wayne Elliott announced the play would be reviewed and after coming out from under the hood, said the ruling on the field of a touchdown stood.

Tate views the play as a springboard to other big plays for him last year.

"I think that at any moment, I can go out there and change the game, I can turn a third-and-4 to a big first down and take us into the red zone," Tate said. "That just shows that the game is not over until there (is no time) on the clock."

As for Jennings, he's looking to move on.

"It's not about Golden Tate or the Seahawks," Jennings said. "It's just about getting better as a team, getting better for the regular season."


Find Genaro Armas on Twitter at twitter.com/GArmasAP.



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