Raji's score sends Pack to Texas; rush TD next?
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Watching B.J. Raji rumble into the end zone in real time, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy was as fired up as any Packers fan.
When McCarthy had the chance to watch the key play from Sunday's NFC Championship game victory over the Chicago Bears again on film, he managed to find a few teachable moments.
First off, it's safe to say Raji should tuck the ball away until he's safely in the end zone next time.
And what on Earth was that hip-shaking celebratory dance all about?
"He got two minuses on the play — one for holding the ball out, and one for the dance," McCarthy joked.
Risky ballhandling skills aside, Raji's pivotal play slowed a frantic fourth-quarter comeback attempt by the Bears and third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie. Raji's rambling 18-yard return turned out to be the winning score, setting the Packers up to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium.
"It really kind of happened so quickly that once the game ended, I felt like I was living the dream," Raji said. "Everything slowed down for me. I go in the locker room, and the postgame, the stage is set up. So I'm like, 'Man, this is really happening.' I'm turning around and people are handing out the NFC Championship hats and T-shirts. I'm like, 'Man, this is coming true.' It's just a blessing."
And it was another big step in what has been an impressive second NFL season for Raji.
While the former Boston College standout isn't nearly as well-known as fellow 2009 first-round Packers draft pick Clay Matthews, he has been critical to the success of the Packers defense this season.
Given the Packers' lack of defensive line depth, Raji doesn't leave the field very often. And despite the heavy work load, Raji seems to be getting better as the season goes on.
Now there's no telling what's next for the Packers' big man, although he does have an idea.
Would you believe ... a 337-pound running back?
Raji already has taken a handful of snaps as a Green Bay fullback, and is subtly lobbying for a chance to carry the ball.
"I'm more worried about winning," Raji said. "If Coach feels he's giving me the ball to win, I'm very ecstatic about that. If Coach feels he needs me to block so he can run play action stuff or run the ball, I'm fine with that as well. As long as we win, I'm happy."
Already, Raji's limited exploits on offense have earned him a nickname: "The Freezer," a tip of the hat to former Chicago Bears player William "The Refrigerator" Perry.
"I was miked up for the Atlanta game, and one of the trainers came to me and said, 'You look like The Fridge out there,'" Raji said. "And I was just playing around, 'I'm the Freezer.' I was making a joke, just making light of the situation and having a good time with it. So I guess, in retrospect, I came up with the name."
Despite any offensive aspirations Raji might have, his primary responsibility remains on defense, where he'll be expected to disrupt the middle of the Steelers' offensive line.
And he knows he'll have his hands full with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"He's a very big guy," Raji said. "We played him last year and we had trouble bringing him down. I think we missed about four or five sacks on him just because he eluded us."
And maybe he'll catch Roethlisberger by surprise like he did Hanie, dropping back in coverage and grabbing a pass out of the air.
"He jumps in front of the ball, quarterback never saw him," McCarthy said. "Just to catch and show his athletic ability (is impressive)."
Charles Woodson was impressed with Raji's hands.
"As a lineman, you don't get to handle that ball much," Woodson said. "So for him to come up with a catch and get into the end zone, that was huge."
Raji got mixed reviews on his celebration dance, where he put his hands on his hips and began to swivel. He said some people loved it — and others joked that he needed some lessons.
"I got 170 text messages after the game," Raji said. "I haven't read half of them yet. It's just been a crazy couple days."