GREEN BAY, Wis. – A kick in the face and a ball off the back.
That was Kevin King’s afternoon in Detroit on Sunday.
The results were stitches in his chin and a controversial call that put the Green Bay Packers in an early hole in their 31-23 loss to the Lions.
It hasn’t been an easy start to the season – or a career – for the Packers’ top draft pick in 2017.
The cornerback who the Packers believe is their best chance at a shutdown cover man couldn’t finish his rookie season because of a lingering shoulder injury that eventually required surgery. He missed two of the first four games this season because of a pulled groin.
His return came Sunday at Ford Field, where it started badly and ended bloody.
It began innocently enough. Blocking on a punt return, King was engaged with Lions safety Charles Washington when the ball hit no more than a yard in front of them. Off the bounce, it appeared to graze one of them – either Washington on the arm or King in the back. The ball then rolled to the Packers’ 1-yard line, where Detroit touched it down.
King thought that was where the Packers would take over. Instead, the officials ruled the ball went off him, therefore giving the Lions the ball at the 1, where they scored on the next play.
“It didn’t hit me,” King insisted a day later. “When I was out there on the field, I [looked up] and I [saw] it actually hit him. The thing is, if you see my reaction, if it would’ve hit me, I would’ve turned around and tried to get it. I just ran off the field. I thought they were celebrating because they downed it at the 1. I didn’t even know that’s what they were cheering about until, like, the replay. No, it didn’t hit me though.”
The replay, however, failed to show enough evidence to overturn the call.
It only got worse for King.
With 9 minutes left in the game, King tried to ankle tackle Lions receiver Golden Tate on a short pass and ended up on the ground. Tate kept his feet moving and one of them slipped through King’s facemask and lacerated his chin. With blood dripping down his face, King was carted to the locker room, where one of the Packers doctors stitched his cut closed. He said he believes he got four or five stitches and planned to return if he could get back to the field in time, which he did not.
“He stepped on my whole face,” said King, whose lower lip was swollen more than a full day after the game. “I’m having trouble talking just because I’ve got a busted lip and the chin stuff.”
Players wear plastic or rubber cleats, but it was still enough to slice open King’s face.
“He’s sponsored by [Nike],” King said. “He’s a Jordan man, so those Jordan spikes are big.”
It would be hard to blame King if he wondered when things will turn around for him. The Packers drafted him with the first pick of the second round (No. 33 overall) to be the matchup corner their defense lacked since the end of Sam Shields’ career here in 2016. They liked King’s rare size (6-foot-3) and speed combination at the position.
Last season, Packers defensive assistant coach Joe Whitt said “you haven’t seen the real Kevin King yet” after he went on injured reserve. Whitt made that comment because he watched King play with essentially one arm due to his ailing left shoulder – an injury that dated to his college days at Washington.
This summer, Whitt predicted the “real” King would be on display during training camp. But King injured his other shoulder. Then came the groin injury during the Week 2 game against Minnesota – an injury that coach Mike McCarthy said at the time the defense did not handle well, allowing the Vikings to come back to tie the game.
From an injury standpoint, it hasn’t been an ideal start to King’s career. The Packers would like to see King and rookies Jaire Alexander (this year’s first-round pick) and Josh Jackson (second-round pick) develop into the core of the cornerback group.
"Hey man, it's a 100-percent injury rate,” King said. “It's going to happen sooner or later. You've just to keep your mind on straight and just keep pushing. Can't go down."
King said the groin wasn’t an issue at all against the Lions and that he should be cleared to play on Monday night against the 49ers.
Now, if he can only keep his face from getting stepped on and live footballs from hitting him in the back.