Non-Touchdown Detracts From Special Teams

Devin Hester served as a decoy on a memorable touchdown that was overturned by a holding penalty. Still, the Packers' special teams went swing for swing against the Bears' special teams, which were hyped as the best in NFL history last season.

The Green Bay Packers improved to 3-0, thanks in no small part to the play of coordinator Shawn Slocum's special teams.

And yet, much of the talk centered on the gag pulled on his punting team with about 1 minute to go in Sunday's 27-17 victory over the rival Chicago Bears.

"That's probably the most questions I've ever got about a play that didn't count," Slocum said after the 11th of about 15 queries fired him during a media session outside the Packers' locker room on Monday.

Needing a miracle finish, the Bears' esteemed special teams coordinator, Dave Toub, used the electric Devin Hester as the ultimate decoy. Slocum called upon his young punter, Tim Masthay, to kick the ball to the left in an attempt to hem in Hester at the sideline. Masthay did his job perfectly but Hester — with his league-record 10 punt return touchdowns making him one of the most-feared players in the NFL — is like a spotlight to moths. Hester drifted to the right and the Packers' entire coverage unit drifted toward him.

"Not only is his production something you have to deal with, you have to deal with the threat of his production. He's a dynamic player," Slocum said.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone in a Packers uniform other than Masthay, one of the jammers, Johnny Knox, fielded the ball and went 89 yards for a touchdown.

Fortunately for the Packers, another one of the jammers, Corey Graham, clearly grabbed Jarrett Bush around jersey at about the Bears' 35 while the kick was in the air.

"I was saying, ‘You guys are running for nothing' because I immediately saw the flag come out," Slocum said.

That harmless play notwithstanding, Slocum felt his units certainly did their share to beat the Bears. In the Dallas Morning News' special teams rankings last season, Chicago ranked fourth. During the playoffs, a Chicago Sun-Times headline asked if the Bears' special teams were the best in NFL history because of the explosive Hester, reliable kicker Robbie Gould, a league-high 20 blocked kicks during Toub's first seven seasons and Graham's league-leading 22 special-teams tackles last season.

Masthay, who beat the Bears' rush on his first two kicks, punted seven times. With a game plan of short, high kicks, Hester returned just one of them, and Masthay's one pooch punt was downed by Pat Lee at the 2. Three of Mason Crosby's six kickoffs went for touchbacks, with Chicago's starting field position the 20.8-yard line. Meanwhile, Packers punt returner Randall Cobb had returns of 17 and 13 yards to set up a touchdown and field goal, respectively.

"I thought our kickoff coverage was very strong," Slocum said. "I thought our (punt) coverage was well done. From a punt return standpoint, we had two explosive returns and left a little bit on the table. We need to score touchdowns on those plays. We didn't have any kickoff return abilities. There was one ball that was miss-hit that we could have possibly fielded. Outside of that, I thought we played well. I thought our field goal protection was really good with (Julius) Peppers and (Israel) Idonije inside. They've had a lot of production in there with their field goal block."

Still, given the Packers' considerable difficulties on special teams over the years — they ranked 29th in last season's Dallas Morning News breakdown and, famously, let a 300-pound lineman rumble 71 yards on a kickoff return — the much-talked about play was a play that, in essence, never really happened.

"Number one, it's excellent design by Chicago and obviously was executed very well if it wasn't for the penalty," coach Mike McCarthy said. "But there was a coverage issue from our standpoint that was not intact. Very well-executed play, and they actually did it earlier in the game, one where we downed the ball on the 2-yard line."

Slocum was vague about what his players could have done better on the punt, but one of them is obvious: Trust that Masthay kicked the ball where he was instructed. Though with a guy like Hester, that's easier said than done.

"You'd like for them to have the awareness of knowing where the ball is," Slocum said. "No. 1, the direction of the kick call indicates that. It's a tough chore because you're fighting to get out and they're trying to hold you up and then you're trying to defeat the man who's blocking you and then you go down the field. The next indicator is the punt returner. There's a lot of things involved in that play."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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