NFL: Raji’s Rise
GREEN BAY, Wis. ó 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 Sundayís NFC Championship game victory over the Chicago Bears again on film, he managed to find a few teachable moments.
First off, itís safe to say Raji should tuck the ball away until heís safely in the end zone next time.
And what on Earth was that hip-shaking celebratory dance all about?
ěHe got two minuses on the play ó one for holding the ball out, and one for the dance,î McCarthy joked.
Risky ballhandling skills aside, Rajiís pivotal play slowed a frantic fourth-quarter comeback attempt by the Bears and third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie. Rajiís 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.
ěIt really kind of happened so quickly that once the game ended, I felt like I was living the dream,î Raji said. ěEverything slowed down for me. I go in the locker room, and the postgame, the stage is set up. So Iím like, ëMan, this is really happening.í Iím turning around and people are handing out the NFC Championship hats and T-shirts. Iím like, ëMan, this is coming true.í Itís just a blessing.î
And it was another big step in what has been an impressive second NFL season for Raji.
While the former Boston College standout isnít 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 Packersí lack of defensive line depth, Raji doesnít leave the field very often. And despite the heavy work load, Raji seems to be getting better as the season goes on.
Now thereís no telling whatís next for the Packersí 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.
ěIím more worried about winning,î Raji said. ěIf Coach feels heís giving me the ball to win, Iím very ecstatic about that. If Coach feels he needs me to block so he can run play action stuff or run the ball, Iím fine with that as well. As long as we win, Iím happy.î
Already, Rajiís limited exploits on offense have earned him a nickname: ěThe Freezer,î a tip of the hat to former Chicago Bears player William ěThe Refrigeratorî Perry.
ěI was miked up for the Atlanta game, and one of the trainers came to me and said, ëYou look like The Fridge out there,íî Raji said. ěAnd I was just playing around, ëIím the Freezer.í 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.î
Despite any offensive aspirations Raji might have, his primary responsibility remains on defense, where heíll be expected to disrupt the middle of the Steelersí offensive line.
And he knows heíll have his hands full with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
ěHeís a very big guy,î Raji said. ěWe 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.î
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