Rossum's Punt Runback First Game-winner Since '86

The Packers finally got the contribution they had been looking for all year from their special teams Sunday, and the relief was evident on Frank Novak's face.

"I was just jacked up about it," said Novak, the Packers' special teams coach and guru. The play in particular that raised Novak's blood pressure came from his return specialist Allen Rossum. Playing at full strength for the first time this year, the diminutive Notre Dame graduate took Mark Royals' punt 55 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. When the clock eventually expired, the touchdown turned out to be the game-winner for the Packers, 21-20 victors over the Buccaneers at Lambeau Field.

"It was an electrifying play," said Novak. "First of all, it was great to see him back at full strength ... just to see him being able to just do what he can do."

The Packers needed Rossum back at full strength, too. Their special teams return units had been dismal entering last Sunday's game, ranking last in the NFL in both kick and punt return average. Much of that had to do with the absence of Rossum, who has missed four games this year due to a hamstring injury.

"It sure felt like around eight (games)," said Rossum. "It seemed like I missed the entire season. I was real eager, but I didn't want that eagerness to have me make a mistake out there on that field."

While Rossum was out, Antonio Freeman, Charles Lee, and Darren Sharper filled in and were directed by head coach Mike Sherman to take the safe approach to returning and not to take any chances. As a result, the Packers' return game was nothing more than a whimper. Rossum's return has again made it a roar.

In the process, Rossum's energy and star performance against the Buccaneers lifted the collective spirits of his fellow special teamers. His punt return for a touchdown was the first in 15 years to win a game for the Packers. The last to accomplish that feat was Walter Stanley at the Silverdome on Thanksgiving Day in 1986.

"Everyone dreams of scoring the game-winning touchdown," said Rossum. "I just wanted to give Brett another chance, but it kind of happened that those guys did another tremendous job of just keeping the other guys out of my face."

Rossum returned to his full-time special teams duties for the first game this season, participating on coverage units in addition to returns. The Packers' coverage units have been adjusting to several new personnel this year, so Rossum's appearance in the lineup was a welcome return.

The only sore spot for the special teams against the Buccaneers was Ryan Longwell missing a 41-yarder to continue the poorest stretch of his career. He has now missed six of 13 field goals this year, far below his career percentage of 82.0. Missing his last four attempts over the last three games has Novak somewhat worried.

"Yes, I'm concerned about him," he said. "I'm concerned that I don't want him to lose his confidence. I want him to be able to come back. He hasn't made a field goal in a few weeks now."

"One of the attributes I've always thought that he had was that he could bounce back from a bad kick, and come back and make it work. He's going to do that."

Longwell believes he will, too, and does not buy any "slump" talk. "My confidence is pretty good," said Longwell. "I don't think it's too low. It's not like I'm down in the dumps or anything. If I was shanking balls and not hitting it solid, I'd be really concerned. I'll be honest with you, I'm hitting the ball pretty good."

Against the Buccaneers on Sunday, he missed his kick just two to three feet to the left. Longwell said he hit the kick good though, as evident by the ball sailing higher than the height of the goal posts.

Sherman does not appear to be too concerned about Longwell's performance and side-stepped any negative thoughts about his kicker after the game saying, "The kicker made the extra point he needed to make to win the game." That extra point, of course, followed Rossum's dramatic return.

Novak also made it a point to mention two directional punts that Josh Bidwell booted in the fourth quarter that pinned Buccaneers return man Karl Williams against the sideline.

"Those were big-time kicks," said Novak. Bidwell averaged 44.3 yards per punt on seven punts for the game and tallied just his second touchback of the year.

The overwhelming sentiment from the Packer locker room following Sunday is that the special teams units are prepared for a big finish to the season, and Rossum's return is a big boost for that. His performance on Sunday certainly gave Novak a thrill at least for one afternoon.

"When I first saw him slip inside and he had a little space, and you could just see it unfold... it was almost like slow motion in front of my face," he described. "Just a great, great run, and more importantly it translated into a win."

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