GREEN BAY – Sweat was beading on Mike Daniels’ still-raw forehead following a night of collisions in the trenches against the Cleveland Browns, and the Green Bay Packers defensive tackle was definitely salty.
Daniels wastes few words in interviews, his bass driving home messages even further.
He spoke about taking victories as opposed to being handed them. He felt he should’ve had three sacks in Sunday’s 31-13 Packers (4-2) victory over the Browns (3-4) instead of the one he did register.
And when it came to teammate Jamari Lattimore’s 12-tackle, 1-sack performance?
"That thing about attitude and grit and edge we’ve been talking about – he exemplifies that," Daniels said. "That’s all I have to say. He brings it all the time. He’s just another one of the guys on our team who is going to fight you. And continue to punch you even when you beg him and scream for him to stop. Because that’s how the game is. Until the clock hits zero, we’re not going to stop."
Browns guard Shawn Lauvao was often the victim of Lattimore’s relentlessness, despite nearly an 80-pound advantage on the third-year linebacker.
There was the first quarter play when Lattimore crashed down the line to tackle Browns running back Willis McGahee, who was headed in the opposite direction, to set up a 3rd-and-10 that eventually led to a Browns punt.
In the third quarter, he chased down Browns running back Fozzy Whittaker, dragging Lauvao with him the entire way. That set up Lattimore’s first career sack, which began on late pressure right at Lauvao. Lattimore stopped at the line, jumping at Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden’s pump fakes in an effort to break a potential pass up, which eventually forced Weeden to pull the ball down and scramble left in the pocket.
Lattimore quickly separated from Lauvao, moved to his right and dropped the quarterback.
"He’s very strong and explosive, just a good athlete overall," fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said of Lattimore. "Weight doesn’t matter as much these days with the power and everything. This game is so much about being explosive and being the guy attacking and not letting him get to you first."
Lattimore had already established himself as a core special teams player after making the team as an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State in 2011, but he has rarely seen the field as a backup to a solid group of linebackers the last two-plus seasons. Injuries across that corps finally elevated him into the starting lineup last week and he made three tackles, but on Sunday he was even more impactful.
His 12 total tackles (9 solo, 3 assisted) surpassed his career total of 11 heading into this year. He also had a tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry. The 25-year-old is clearly taking advantage of the opportunity to show what he can do when given a chance.
Lattimore was unavailable for comment postgame, but his teammates had no problems speaking about the job he did.
"What people don’t understand is that this game is more mental than physical," said outside linebacker Mike Neal. "Mentally, being able to climb over that hump (last week), he’s done that, mentally to be able to go out there on the field and not care if you make mistakes and just know that the next play is the one that counts, he’s doing a great job of that.
"He’s making the plays and building his confidence, and when you build your confidence you’re able to play like he has been. Jamari’s a great player and with our group, you can expect nothing less from him in the future."
There is room for improvement, of course. Lattimore’s hustle nearly cost him and the Packers in the second quarter when Weeden broke free down the Packers sideline as the Browns were driving down 14-0. Weeden was clearly headed toward the boundary, but Lattimore dove for him anyway, only he whiffed and slid harmlessly out of bounds.
Should he have clipped the quarterback, he likely would’ve been flagged and kept the Browns drive alive – one that ended with that play and resulted in a Billy Cundiff field goal and maintained a comfortable Packers lead.
But as Daniels said, such tenacity is what endears him to his teammates and turned him into an immediate playmaker.
"I love playing next to him," Hawk said. "That’s kind of the thing – next guy up. We talk about it all the time, but he played really well."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.