For Packers' Tramon Williams, rematch with Seahawks only small part of renaissance season

For Packers' Tramon Williams, rematch with Seahawks only small part of renaissance season

Tramon Williams photo

Cornerback Tramon Williams (38) celebrates an interception in the Packers' win over the Panthers on Nov. 10 at Lambeau Field.

GREEN BAY — Charles Woodson has been watching. When it comes to Tramon Williams — his protégé, his friend, his little brother — he is always watching.

Woodson was watching when Williams joined the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad in 2006, a largely unnoticed, late-season roster addition who’d been criss-crossing the NFL countryside for tryout after tryout until the Packers finally gave him a shot.

Woodson was watching during training camp the following summer, when Williams not only earned a roster spot but, by season’s end, was on the field with Woodson and fellow shutdown cornerback Al Harris in the 2007 NFC Championship Game.

Woodson was watching in the years that followed, as Williams evolved into a shutdown corner himself, leading the Packers’ postseason pick parade alongside Woodson as the 2010 Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Woodson was watching during the 2014 NFC Championship Game, when the Packers’ inexplicable meltdown culminated when Williams, in single coverage against Seattle wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, was beaten for the decisive 35-yard touchdown in overtime — sending the Packers home and the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLIX. It would be — or seemed to be at the time, anyway — Williams’ final play as a Packer, as he left as an unrestricted free agent following the season.

And Woodson has been watching this year, as the 36-year-old Williams has had a turn-back-the-clock season and been a vital member of a resurgent Packers defense that has the team two victories away from Super Bowl LIV, a postseason path that begins Sunday with an NFC Divisional playoff meeting with the Seahawks at Lambeau Field.

“It’s fun to watch him because he’s a big part of what they do still at his age,” Woodson, who spent seven seasons with the Packers (2006 through 2012) and retired in 2015, said late last week. “Just watching him out there running and flying around, along with these young guys, to me it’s fun to watch because he’s still out there making plays. He shows up on the film, on the television — pass breakups, being part of big plays.

“I think he’s played really good. You hate to say ‘at his age,’ because it kind of automatically diminishes what you do. I’d just say he’s playing good football.”

That he is.

Having returned to the Packers last year after two years with the Browns and one with the Arizona Cardinals, Williams finished the 2019 regular season having played in all 16 games (including seven starts) and registered 41 tackles, one tackle for a loss, two interceptions, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 11 pass break-ups while playing 73.2% of the defensive snaps. In his return to the Packers last season, Williams started 16 games (nine at safety, seven at corner) and had 64 tackles, a fumble recovery and four pass break-ups – but no interceptions – while playing 99.5% of the defensive snaps.

“You see players that play deep into their 30s and even their 40s, but that’s usually kickers and quarterbacks. It’s rare that it’s a corner, a guy that runs that much and who’s that reliant on their movement skills,” said Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who was Williams’ head coach in Cleveland for one season. “Those are typically the first things that start to go.

“I just think it’s so rare for someone to play that position and just be so durable, dependable. I mean, he just goes and goes. It’s amazing that he’s been able to do it because if you go back through the history of the league, I don’t think there’s too many that you could put in that category.”

Despite that durability, less has been more this season for Williams, who has manned the nickel slot position frequently imparting his veteran insights to younger outside corners Jaire Alexander and Kevin King.

“It’s been amazing,” said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was Williams’ teammate throughout his first tour of duty in Green Bay, too — including during that Super Bowl XLV run when Williams had three postseason interceptions, including one he returned 70 yards for a touchdown at Atlanta in the Divisional round. “He’s got that ‘Wow’ factor he’s always had, from the first time he was in here.”

“I remember hearing the stories about him playing on the ‘Green Machine,’ which was the (Packers’) basketball team that went around and stomped on any team they faced – we don’t do that anymore; it was an offseason thing – (but) just hearing about his athleticism. (Then he had) the pick-six against Atlanta in the ’11 playoffs, (and then) him coming back and continuing to make plays at, for football, his advanced age.”

“Especially for his position, not many guys are able to do it for that long. He got an All-Pro vote this year, which was well deserved. He’s a very steady guy in the locker room – always has been – but he’s a man of wisdom, as well.

“What helped him out a lot was playing with Charles and being friends with Charles. He has the same type of charisma that Charles has. Just talking to him and (not) knowing what he’s thinking, it’d be nice, if this is going to be his last year, to send him out the right way.”

Williams has given no indication publicly of whether he might retire after the season. He signed a two-year, $10 million contract upon his return last year, and with that deal expiring, it’s unclear whether the Packers will bring him back — or if he wants to keep playing.

Instead, he’s been focused on the Packers’ surprising 13-3 season and the postseason opportunity before him. Sunday’s game will be his first playoff game since that 2014 NFC title game loss, and from that Super Bowl XLV roster, only Williams, Rodgers, right tackle Bryan Bulaga and kicker Mason Crosby remain.

“I haven’t been in the playoffs for four years. Four years,” Williams said. “You learn to value these opportunities. That’s what I’m doing. I’m staying in the moment.”

“If you asked me that a few years ago, I would have a different opinion because I was in the playoffs every year at that point and the opportunity was always there. I had the opportunity to go to different places to see how different places are run and how different teams are built, from top to bottom. I understand that not every team can say this. I’m definitely taking it all in stride.

“I’m excited about the opportunity and I’m definitely playing for Aaron and some of other guys. I think we have four guys left who were on the Super Bowl team: Aaron, Bulaga and Mason and myself. You learn to play for those guys.”

While Williams said he appreciated being back in Green Bay and having another chance to face the Seahawks in another win-or-go-home matchup after what happened the last time, he insisted that he isn’t entering this game with anything extra to prove.

“It’s one of the opportunities that you live and you learn from. Ideally, that wasn’t he way that I wanted to go out as a Packer. If I did, then I would live with it. No doubt about it. But I was thankful enough to get another opportunity, and I will forever be grateful for that,” Williams said. “I’m just glad to have the chance to put back on this jersey. I don’t think the emotions go into it about what team it is (against). Totally different team that they have right now, and we have a different team. Everything is different about the situation.”

But Woodson, of course, knew better. When the Packers cut him in February 2013 – something that at the time angered him and still bothers him to some degree – Woodson got to return to the Oakland Raiders and played three more seasons, earning a Pro Bowl selection in 2015. Having left Oakland with some regret, Woodson appreciated his second chance there.

Just as he believes Williams has in Green Bay.

“There’s no doubt,” Woodson said. “I think anytime you play somewhere for any length of time, and it doesn’t end quite on the terms you’d like it to end, it would be great to come back and kind of make amends from however it ended.

“It’s got to be fun for him to go out there and be a part of that defense. It’s great to have a second chance at anything, I think. In any part of your life, it’s great. Because you get to go back and do some things maybe differently than you would have done it the first time or did it the first time.”

Photos: Packers' 2019 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2019 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2019, from the preseason through the end of the regular season and the playoffs — if the Packers make it.

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