Special teams help give it away

In Green Bay's overtime loss to Chicago on Monday night, the Packers' kicking units had numerous breakdowns.

When Mason Crosby's potential game-winning field goal was blocked, it put an exclamation mark on a bad night by the Packers' special teams.

Special teams were supposed to play a big role for a team with championship aspirations way back in August. Indeed, special teams have made a difference all season, but not in the way the Packers expected. And that was evident again on a bone-chilling Monday night in Chicago, when Mike Stock's unit frittered away strong performances by the offense and defense in a 20-17 overtime loss at Chicago.

"We didn't hold our water," Stock told reporters afterward.

The Packers avoided disaster late in the first quarter when returner Will Blackmon misjudged a punt and had it hit the frozen Soldier Field turf right in front of him. The ball bounced over Blackmon's foot by what looked like a millimeter on ESPN's replay. If the ball had touched Blackmon, the Bears would have recovered inside the Packers' 5-yard line. Instead, it was merely a harmless touchback.

After Green Bay took a 7-0 lead — the touchdown was set up on backup quarterback Matt Flynn's 6-yard run on a fake punt — Danieal Manning took the kickoff back 70 yards to the Packers' 29-yard line. Desmond Bishop ran out of his lane, and by the time he got back to where he was supposed to be, Manning had sprinted past him. Making matters worse, Manning — comparing himself to the "Incredible Hulk" — dragged Jarrett Bush more than 20 yards before finally going down. That set up a field goal, but the Packers took a 14-3 lead into halftime.

The turning point of the game happened early in the third quarter. The Bears went three-and-out on their first possession of the second half and punted, but Brad Maynard's kick bounced off of Bush, who was blocking gunner Rashied Davis.

Suddenly, the Bears — who at that point had mustered 51 yards of offense and had gone 0-for-6 on third downs — were setting up shop at the Packers' 27. They turned that into a touchdown that cut the margin to 14-10.

Later in the quarter, the Packers had a chance to extend the lead to 17-10 but Crosby missed badly on a 46-yard field goal.

"On this cold night, I found the one lose spot on the cold ground and I felt my foot give way just a little bit," Crosby said. "It's just one of those I need to get my balance and get it up and through. That's one I wish I could get back."

The Packers were clinging to that lead halfway through the fourth quarter when Jeremy Kapinos hit a short, low punt to Devin Hester. The wind was at his back, and Kapinos was supposed to angle the ball out of bounds but failed. Hester, the game's most-feared punt returner during his first two seasons, ripped off his longest return of the season — 24 yards — to near midfield.

It was a huge play, considering Chicago's offense had mustered all of 113 yards on the night. Given the gift of great field position, the Bears scored the tying touchdown.

The Packers made one good play on special teams all night, with Blackmon taking the ensuing kickoff to midfield. A penalty on the tackle gave the Packers the ball at the Bears' 35, but Crosby's 38-yard field goal in the final 25 seconds was blocked by Alex Brown.

"The season's on the line," Brown said. "This is a team we really can't stand and they're trying to ruin our season. We made a play, it was great and was an unbelievable game."

Twice this season, the reliable Crosby has misfired with the game on the line.

"Obviously, I'm frustrated," Crosby said. "I had a chance to help the team win here and it's really disappointing. I don't like doing these interviews and it sucks this has happened twice this year."

The final special-teams stats were ugly. Kapinos had a 27.8 yard net average per punt compared to 41.3 for the ageless Maynard. Blackmon, one of the top punt returners in the game, averaged 3.5 yards on two runbacks. Along with the field-goal failings, Crosby booted one kickoff out of bounds. The Packers allowed Manning to average 29.3 yards per kickoff return.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com.


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