Sander's numbers plummet

Punter struggles as temperature drops

If bombing out in the preseason and then sitting his entire rookie season last year wasn't harsh enough, B.J. Sander is getting a blustery indoctrination to how miserable life for an NFL punter can be in the northern climes at this time of the year.

Sander figuratively dropped the ball in the first half of the Packers' 19-7 loss at Chicago. For the first time since he came down with a case of the shanks in the 2004 exhibition slate, Sander struggled mightily with kicks of 14 and 21 yards dribble off his left foot.

The former Ohio State standout acknowledged the nefarious December winds off Lake Michigan at Soldier Field wreaked havoc in the early going.

"It was gusty," said Sander, adding of the 21-yarder that made a beeline out of bounds, "The wind blew out on me a little bit. The margin of error is so small you can't afford to let that happen."

Although Sander was able to right himself in the second half and had back-to-back punts of 50 yards in the third quarter, the true test of whether he's got what it takes to withstand the weather-induced rigors of kicking in Green Bay is still to come. The Packers play three of their final four games at Lambeau Field, starting Sunday night against Detroit.

As the temperatures have spiraled toward the freezing mark and beyond the last few weeks, so has Sander's numbers. He has plummeted to 30th in the league with a gross average of 39.9 yards and is 28th with a net average of 34.9 yards.

Sander's gross averages the past three games have been 36.3, 36 and 35.7 yards.

"Up until the last couple of weeks, he's been fairly consistent," coach Mike Sherman said. "I just think he has to get better in windy conditions -- not trying to over-kick and relaxing a little bit. I thought he did better in the second half (Sunday) but certainly did not kick well enough in the first half for us to say it was satisfactory. It wasn't."

Sherman, then in his dual role as general manager, raised eyebrows when he traded up to take Sander in the third round of the draft last year to replace Josh Bidwell, who had signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent. Bidwell is flourishing in the warm climate with the Buccaneers this season, ranking second in the league with a gross average of 46.1 yards, and could earn his first Pro Bowl trip.

Much like what Sander is enduring now, Bidwell needed time to adjust to the drastic changes in weather conditions throughout a season in Green Bay. He averaged 38.5 yards his first year in 2000, then turned out respectable averages of 42.5, 41.7 and 41.7 yards his last three years with the team.

"You just have to accept the fact that you're not going to kick the ball quite as far in wind like that," Sherman said of the lesson Sander gained Sunday. "You can't compensate; you can't change your swing. You've got to swing the same way."

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