Packers-Bears game notes

Like the rest of the team on Sunday, the Packers' special teams followed in line with every indication that overall improvement will take time. On a day when the unit could have helped the Packers compete in a game that they were otherwise controlled by the Bears on offense and defense, it made two major blunders and almost blew another one.

The Packers started two new specialists and a number of new kick and punt coverage players and it showed. Kicker Dave Rayner got one shot at a field goal, badly missing a 53-yarder just before halftime while punter Jon Ryan was admittedly nervous on his first couple of punts as a pro, booting less than spectacular efforts before settling down.

The knockout blow of the game came when Bears rookie Devin Hester ran back one of Ryan's best punts of the day, a 50-yarder, to put the Bears ahead 26-0 in the fourth quarter. That spectacular 84-yard return completed the total domination by the Bears in all three phases of the game.

Besides Hester's runback, Herron fumbling a kickoff return in the second quarter was the other major blunder by the Packers special teams. It led to Robbie Gould's third field goal of the half and a 16-0 Bears lead.

"Two big plays (by the Bears) in the special teams, that's not what we're looking for," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.

The lone of highlight of the day for the Packers did come on special teams, though it could have been a disaster. After a couple of shaky punts, Ryan was called upon for a fake punt late in the first half with the Packers trailing 16-0. Though the execution was shaky, the Bears were caught off guard.

"We thought it was perfect time for it," said Ryan. "Coach called it from the sideline, I took the snap, took a few steps like I was going to punt, then I turned and saw a guy in my face and just popped a real ugly little pass over to the right, and Noah made a good catch."

Ryan's pass had just about as much hang time as one of his punts, but because Herron was so wide open, he was able to corral in the pass for a 16-yard gain on fourth-and-four. The play worked, but could have been another disaster in a long day for the special teams if not for Herron's soft hands. The Packers moved to the Bears' 35-yard line after the fake, but the drive ended with Rayner's missed field goal.

Ryan did bounce back from a shaky start to average 45 yards on six punts for the day, but his 24.3-yard net average is a sign that his hang time could be an issue.

Further adding to a poor day for the special teams was a roughing the kicker penalty on Nick Collins late in the game and an otherwise uncomfortable looking trio of kick returners in Herron, Samkon Gado, and Robert Ferguson, all who could find little room to run.

It's been a long time: The Packers were shutout for the first time in the Brett Favre era. The last time they had been shut out was Oct. 17, 1991, a 10-0 loss to the Bears when Lindy Infante was head coach.

Green runs strong: Even with some of the problems the Packers offensive line had, Ahman Green ran hard and showed he has recovered fully from a ruptured quadriceps tendon injury that forced him to miss most of last season.

"I think it's clear that he's back," said McCarthy.

Green ran 20 times for 110 yards against one of the NFL's best defenses and showed a burst in the process. He played only a handful of plays in the Packers last two preseason games before starting the opener.

"I felt good," said Green. "To play the game like I did, to play the whole entire game in a lot of the situations like third down, two minute, and short yardage, it felt good."

Green did amass some of his yardage on third-and-long situations and when the game was essentially over, but his effort could not be overlooked. Even when the Packers were still in the game in the first half, he bounced off would-be tacklers and found some success with 57 total yards at halftime.

Offensive line struggles, as expected: Favre was not quite as beat up as he was last December in a game at Soldier Field, but he took his share of hits behind a young offensive line with two rookie starting guards, Tony Moll and Jason Spitz. The two biggest areas the offensive line struggled were in short yardage and in pass protection.

"There's definitely going to be growing pains," said Moll. "There always is at the beginning of the season. We're trying to figure out who we are and what type of team we're going to be."

Moll and Spitz worked with center Scott Wells against a strong Bears interior which included Tommie Harris, Ian Scott, and Tank Johnson. The Packers interior line had their hands full for most of the game.

"They struggled at times," said McCarthy. "Jason stepped on Brett's foot on the first third-down sack and there were a few other problems they encountered, but I thought they battled like I knew they would. I thought they did a good job in the run game. It's good to get them out there and get the experience. They're going to be good players."

In the first half, the Packers stuck to their game plan of running the ball and staying in third-and-short situations, but were not able to convert. Four times in such situations (including a fourth-down quarterback sneak), they were not able to convert a first down.

"You've got to put together a complete set of downs to move the ball and put together some points," said Wells.

Added McCarthy: "We didn't convert on third down. Really, the opportunities to get into the action off the run game did not occur because of lack of production on third down."

Overall, the Packers were just 1 of 11 (9%) on third down.

Did you notice? There is a good reason the Packers kept four tight ends on the roster this year. They will be more active in the offensive game plans and were in Week 1. Though Tory Humphrey was inactive, the other three tight ends played a big role. They were in motion and involved in several "Tiger" and "Trio" sets in the first half. With only one fullback active, David Martin also spent time in the backfield as a blocker. Donald Lee had the Packers biggest play of the day offensively, a 25-yard catch down the middle.

There is also a reason Packers kept 10 defensive linemen on the roster. A rotation of eight players was used. Colin Cole and Ryan Pickett started at tackle, but Cullen Jenkins and Corey Williams saw most of the time inside on passing downs. Also working into the rotation were Kenderick Allen and Michael Montgomery.

Favre only had five pass attempts (and five completions) in the first half, a sign that the Packers are more committed to the run, but also a sign their defense was on the field too long. Time of possession was 18:30 to 11:30.

Some of the Packers new starters had rough outings. Safety Marquand Manuel appeared to bite on a play fake in "quarters" coverage allowing Bears receiver Bernard Berrian and catch a 49-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Second-year linebacker Brady Poppinga, who had eight tackles, was especially hard on himself after allowing a couple of completions to Bears tight end Desmond Clark.

"In the passing game, I didn't think I would allow that tight end to catch as many balls as he caught," said Poppinga. "That for me is unacceptable. I was disappointed on that end, so I'm going to go back to the drawing board and get better at that."

Super Bowl XXXI team honored: It was alumni day at Lambeau Field including many of the players from the Super Bowl XXXI championship season. The Packers recognized the 10th anniversary of that season just before kickoff.

Nearly 40 players from the 1996 team were present and were introduced before the sold-out crowd. Jeremy White, the son of Reggie White, and Sara White, the wife of Reggie, were introduced in the place of the late, great defensive end. Reggie's name and years of service with the Packers (1993-98) was then unveiled on the east facade of the stadium amongst other great Packers legends.

Two players still remain on the 2006 roster from the '96 team, fullback William Henderson, who was inactive against the Bears, and Favre, who got the chance to meet with several of his old teammates after the game in the locker room.

Said Favre of seeing some of his old teammates: "It's a reality check… Seeing those guys, and I knew most of those guys were back and I could see them across the field before we started the game, and I was just thinking, ‘Man, we were pretty good.' And I caught a lot of heat for this earlier in training camp, you look at some of those guys, we were not overly talented… we had talent at certain positions, but we had guys that played together, and I think the key ingredient for success in this league is chemistry and knowing the guy next to you will do his job right and being able to count on a guy in a certain situation in crunch time. And I look at those guys and that's what we had. We had some adversity that year, but we bounced back from it and just found ways to win. Being in the locker room and seeing those guys, they came in right after the game was over, and I have to put on a smile, and I am happy to see them and it was a great year, but I'm still trying to win a game for the Packers. It's a lot more difficult today than it was back then."

Extra Points: The 70,918 fans in attendance on Sunday set a new Lambeau Field record. The previous record of 70,688 was also set in a game against the Bears on Sept. 19, 2004.

--FB William Henderson was deactivated in Sunday's opener, marking only the third game he's missed in his 12-year career. Henderson underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee August 21 and was sidelined the last two weeks of the preseason. He practiced on a limited basis the entire week leading up to the game. Vonta Leach started in place of Henderson.

--WR Greg Jennings had only one catch for 5 yards, which came in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter. Jennings, a second-round draft pick this year, led the league in the preseason with 328 receiving yards. Jennings was slated to be in the starting lineup, but the Packers' first play from scrimmage featured two tight ends with Donald Driver as the lone receiver.

--LB Brady Poppinga was the starter on the strong side. Poppinga moved ahead of veteran free-agent signee Ben Taylor on the depth chart for the final preseason game. Poppinga made a hasty recovery from a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee sustained last December. He had eight tackles Sunday, second to linebacker Nick Barnett's nine, but was beaten frequently by Bears tight end Desmond Clark, who had five catches for 77 yards.

--CB Will Blackmon was deactivated. The fourth-round draft pick returned to practice, albeit in a limited capacity, last Monday after being out since late May with a broken foot.

--OL Junius Coston is expected to be sidelined at least a couple more weeks. The backup tackle/guard on the right side is recovering from a torn medial-collateral ligament in his right knee, which he sustained in the preseason finale Sept. 1.

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