GREEN BAY – Jeremy Ross made a colossal mistake that played an enormous role in the Green Bay Packers 45-31 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night.
But the Packers also believe that the first-year return man has huge potential, so his muffed punt that gave the 49ers the ball at the Green Bay 9-yard line – setting up a touchdown that tied the game at 14-14 – won’t spell the end of him with the Packers.
“I have confidence in Jeremy Ross,” Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said Tuesday, during the final assistant coach media availability session of the season. “I think he has the potential to be a very good player.”
Thus, the Packers intend to give him a chance next season, although Slocum did say Randall Cobb remains the primary returner. Whatever the case, Ross' decision to try to return Andy Lee’s punt rather than simply fair-catching it was a painful lapse in judgment. Ross had a 58-yard punt return in the Dec. 23 victory over Tennessee, then had a 44-yard kickoff return and a 32-yard punt return against Minnesota in the regular-season finale. He worked only on kickoff returns in the NFC Wild Card game against the Vikings before handling both jobs against the 49ers – until the fumble, which landed him on the bench.
“I thought he was overly aggressive. He looked up and gauged the punt and was seeing the coverage of the gunners. Jarrett Bush had the gunner coming from his right under control and he just committed the No. 1 error that you can’t do, you have to catch the ball before you run,” Slocum explained. “I know he was thinking about making a play because he had done that against Minnesota – had gotten the ball off the 10-yard line out to the 20 – (so) I know that was going through his mind and he was overly aggressive. That play really hurt us in that ballgame. We had a one-score lead and a chance to get the ball back and score again.”
Cobb took over returns after that and actually muffed a pair of kickoffs, so Ross wasn’t alone in his mistakes. Then again, his lost possession for the Packers and was a major factor in them losing the game.
Still, Slocum said he didn’t regret the Packers’ decision to go with Ross.
“That was not because of inexperience. He’s caught a bunch of punts in his life and with his production going into that game and what he had done for us as a returner for us, we felt very confident,” Slocum said. “He had a great warm-up before the game. He was catching the ball well. There was no reason for me to believe he was going to mishandle that ball. Likewise, didn’t have any reason to believe Randall would mishandle two balls on the kickoff return.”
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