Special teams make ‘impact plays'

Punt return touchdown by Will Blackmon is just part of the story for the kicking units against the Vikings on Monday.

The most amazing thing about Will Blackmon's dynamic 76-yard touchdown on a punt return?

The Packers were trying to block the punt.

"That was a real big turning point in the game," said fullback Korey Hall, a special-teams staple, after Green Bay's season-opening 24-19 victory. "We were able to jump out to a little bit of a lead. It was just a great return by him. That's kind of what special teams are all about: finishing. It didn't necessarily go as planned. Actually, we were trying to get a punt block on that play. We weren't even thinking about returning."

Good thing for the Packers, Blackmon is always thinking about returning. Returning from the injuries that derailed his first two seasons in the league. Returning every kick in which he has a glimmer of running room.

"I felt it all week, all game," Blackmon said. "Prime-time play, time to step up. Prime-time situation, and every time I got the ball, I felt like I needed to do something. That's my main role right now, contributing on special teams."

Because of chronic football problems, Blackmon returned just eight punts last year. One of those went for a touchdown, so clearly, Blackmon is a dangerous, dangerous weapon. He said being a Pro Bowl returner was a goal, and his prime-time statement is a good way to start.

"Huge. That was a big, big play in the game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Big plays are important. We talk about explosive gains all the time, especially in big-time games. It's great to have him back healthy. We talked about it particularly before the game and we talked about it again at halftime. It was time for special teams to step up and make a big play.

Defensive end Jason Hunter, who talked before the game of the Packers having one of the best special teams in the league, delivered a crunching block to ensure Blackmon's touchdown. Monday's superb performance by the special teams amplified his statement.

"We've got great guys like Will Blackmon, Tramon Williams, Jordy Nelson, and when those guys get the ball in their hands, they make some dynamic things happen," Hunter said. "When you've got great returners like those guys, those guys are able to make some guys miss. They've got great vision, great balance. You block for those guys, something special's going to happen."

That something special gave the Packers a 17-6 lead, and that breathing room in a big-time showdown between bitter rivals.

"Coach always reiterates: ‘impact plays.' Tonight, we were fortunate to get an impact play. That put a dagger to our opponent," Hunter said.

Other than a blocked field goal at the end of the first half, this was the type of night McCarthy had envisioned for his special teams. Because even without Blackmon's touchdown, the Packers dominated the kicking phases.

Punter Derrick Frost had a superb debut. His average of 45.2 yards on five punts was only a small slice of the story. The Vikings' returners managed a total of 13 yards on four returns, and Frost posted a lofty net average of 42.6 yards with his ability to place the ball near the sideline.

The Vikings never started past the 21-yard line after any of Crosby's five kickoffs, including two touchbacks.

And going unnoticed, Blackmon saved the Packers brutal field position when he fielded a bouncing punt at the 13-yard line. That 0-yard return reduced his average to merely 26.0 yards on three runback, but his heads-up play led to a drive that netted a field goal and a 10-3 lead.

Because of Frost, Crosby and the coverage units, the Packers' average starting position was the 29-yard line compared to the 21 for the Vikings. That 8-yard average equates to almost a first down every possession.

"We always talk about field position, because it can be a deciding factor," Hunter said. "When we go down there to cover a punt, cover a kick or we're on the return phase, we always keep that in mind. Field position is so critical."

Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com

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