“I’m like, B. J, you’re three-something,” said Bishop, referring to Raji’s weight. “I don’t really believe you.”
But after watching Raji slip into pass coverage, intercept a pass by the Bears’ third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie and rumble 18 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter — the deciding score in Green Bay’s 21-14 win over Chicago in the N.F.C. title game — Bishop decided Raji was not so crazy after all.
“He made a believer out of me,” Bishop said. “To drop back in coverage and get an interception, then run it to the end zone, I’m a believer.”
So, apparently, is Packers Coach Mike McCarthy.
“We’ve been using him on goal line,” McCarthy said, “so I guess now we have to throw him the ball, since he can show he can catch and score.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s magnificent play has gotten most of the news media attention surrounding the Packers. But the defensive coordinator Dom Capers has quietly put together a unit that, despite key injuries, has been more than reliable. From linebacker Clay Matthews, with a third-generation pedigree, to the undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields, it is a unit that was fifth in the league in total defense and second in interceptions with 24 during the regular season. On Sunday, the Packers had three interceptions and limited the Bears to one third-down conversion in 13 attempts.
“We play as one,” said Bishop, a fourth-year player. “We’re one heartbeat out there with a whole bunch of talented guys. We never worry.” He added, “We know that somebody is going to make a play.”
But Raji? In coverage? Bishop could not remember that happening this season, and Capers was cagey when asked about it.
“We’ve got a few things where he’ll pop out there, but we don’t do it a lot,” Capers said, smiling. “It’s kind of uncommon to have a 340-pound guy roaming around back there.”
Then again, the Packers have already used Raji in one unusual role — as a blocker in their three-back, or bone, formation. That was how Raji got the nickname Freezer, a riff on the Refrigerator sobriquet given to William Perry, who lined up at fullback in goal-line situations for the Bears during their season in 1985.
But with a little more than six minutes to play Sunday and the Packers leading, 14-7, pass coverage was where Raji ended up. On a third-and-5 from the Bears’ 15, Raji said, his job was to read Hanie, then track running back Matt Forte if he ran a crossing route. So when Forte swung wide, Raji slid to his right.
“The running back came right to me, so I was right there for the play,” Raji said.
And suddenly, there was the ball, big as day. “I was just like, he really threw this?” Raji said. “All I had to do was catch it. I knew I was going to the end zone if I could catch it.”
Raji was so confident that he would score that he held the ball out in his right hand for the last 5 yards, a showy move that made Bishop recall Leon Lett’s botched fumble return in Super Bowl XXVII. Buffalo’s Don Beebe chased down Dallas’s Lett and knocked the ball loose as Lett held it in his right hand and neared the end zone.
“I kind of had a flash of that play where — was it Don Beebe who stripped it?” Bishop said. “I kind of had a flash of that when I saw them knock it out and we jumped on it.”
Shields, whose second interception of the game secured the victory with less than a minute to go, could not stop laughing. “That was real funny to me, seeing him with the ball in the air,” he said.
Even Raji had to acknowledge that, saying: “You never dream about having a touchdown as a nose tackle. It’s one of those things that ain’t in my head.”
Now with the Packers headed for the Super Bowl, Bishop could not think about anything else.
“It’s great for a D-lineman to do it, because it’s so rare,” he said. “And it was at a big moment. It was a great thing, and I’m happy for him.”