The perils of modern-day stadium technology fooled Bears cornerback Clifton Duck a bit on the biggest play of his brief NFL career Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. Using the scoreboard as a rear-view mirror on an interception return, Duck still was surprised when Giants rookie receiver Alonzo Russell caught him from behind at the Giants 37-yard line.
“I tried to use the board but the board had a big delay,” said Duck, an undrafted rookie from Appalachian State. “Because on the screen [Russell] was a good five-to-seven yards away from me, and boom — he dove at me. I just felt him reach out and grab me, I said, ‘Oh man, they’re going to let me hear it.’ Because you’ve got to finish every play. Next time, I’ve got to make sure I’m going to get there.”
That disappointment did not spoil a dazzling play by Duck, who came from the end zone on the other side of the field for a diving interception in front of receiver Reggie White Jr. at the 1-yard line. Duck got up and returned the pick 62 yards before Russell caught him. It was just the kind of highlight play he needed to make after giving up a year of eligibility at Appalachian State for a long-shot chance at the NFL. Duck has been under-the-radar impressive in Bears training camp. But the entire league will see that one.
“Now that, I will say is big. Real big,” Duck said. “Coming out early, you read the reports that say I’m undersized; I’m this. I’m that. I always prided myself on being a football player. I felt like I made plays in college, but at this level nobody cares about what you did in college if you can’t bring it to this level. So I feel like that’s a big part to prove that I can do it consistently. I’ve got to keep making plays.”
It took a little bit of gumption for Duck to leave Appalachian State a year early for the NFL at 20. But even Duck was having his doubts when he signed with the Bears.
“When I first got up here, there was a little second-guessing, a little worry here and there,” said the 5-10, 170-pound Duck, who had 13 interceptions as a three-year starter at Appalachian State. “But these great receivers here, they prepared you for this. By the time I got to [training camp], I was trusting the technique they teach you, knowing that it works. When you compete against them, it’s like, ‘Ok, now I’m in the NFL.’”
The diving interception against the Giants was an example how well Duck is picking things up. “I just had my man,” he said, “and we always talk about doing your job and not worrying about anything else but doing your job. So I just kept my eyes on my man and he brought me back to the play.”
The pick had an impact on his teammates, at least Whyte, a seventh-round pick out of FAU. After previously showing off his speed on a 103-yard kickoff return touchdown that was nullified by a penalty, Whyte showed his toughness on back-to-back inside runs that netted a touchdown. After a seven-yard gain to the 1, Whyte battled for the touchdown on the following play, extending his arms to break the plane of the end zone.
“When I saw Duck get a major interception, that just fired me up,” Whyte said. “It changed the momentum. So I was like, ‘We’re gonna score on this drive.’”
Whyte and Duck share not only jersey number 38, but a knack for big plays and big returns. Duck returned a punt and interception for a touchdown at Appalachian State. Whyte had two touchdowns on kickoff returns at FAU. He almost got his first in the NFL.
“It’s kind of disappointing, but it’s part of the game,” Whyte said. “I’m pretty sure if we did it over again, he [Isaiah Irving] wouldn’t have the penalty. It happens. I was just happy to get a feel for it. This was my first time returning on a national level. That’s something I really loved in college.”