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The Packers' special teams units delivered during Monday night's loss to the Bears.

Special teams step up

By SARAH BARSHOP
sbarshop@espnmilwaukee.com

GREEN BAY – After the Green Bay Packers lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone on their first offensive drive of the game, the team’s “next man up” mentality meant another player, or another part of the team, would have to step up. On Monday night, it was the Packers’ special teams unit.

“When you need it, people have to step up in different spots,” John Kuhn said after the Packers’ 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears. “I thought special teams did a good job giving sparks when we were a little down, when we needed them.”

Though the Packers lost the game, 10 of the team’s 20 points were set up by special teams plays. Linebacker Jamari Lattimore, who finished the game with one tackle on special teams and three combined on defense, blocked a punt on the Bears’ second offensive series of the night – shortly after Rodgers left the game and Seneca Wallace took over at quarterback.

On the next play, James Starks ran untouched through a huge hole on the left side of the field for 32 yards, to give the Packers a 10-7 lead. The play was big, Kuhn said, because it changed the field position for the Packers.

“We can help out on special teams,” Kuhn said. “If we make big plays on special teams, we can obviously help the offense out by changing the field position, and the same, the other way around. When we have our coverage teams out there, we can help the defense out.”

After halftime, head coach Mike McCarthy saw that he could use another special teams play to the Packers’ advantage. After forcing a punt from the Bears’ offense, followed by a 56-yard run by Eddie Lacy that led to the rookie’s 1-yard touchdown run and tied the game at 17 with 13:08 left in the third quarter, McCarthy decided he wanted to keep the “momentum wave” rolling.

On the kickoff, instead of kicking the ball deep, Mason Crosby kicked ot to the right, and Lattimore was able to get on top of the ball to recover the onside kick.

“I was trying to steal a series,” McCarthy explained. “It was something that we’ve been working on. I felt the timing was right. We came out, got a stop there in the second half and was able to get the seven points and was trying to ride that momentum wave. I thought our football team needed and it was a great job by our group. We got three points out of it but I thought it was a good opportunity and it was worth the risk.”

The "splash" plays on special teams were accompanied by some solid fundamentals. Twice, Crosby and the kickoff team kept Devin Hester inside the 20-yard line. McCarthy said after the game that he thought special teams “did a pretty good job with Devin Hester.”

The only big play Hester made was on a punt return with 5:33 left in the third quarter. Hester returned Tim Masthay’s punt 23 yards to the Packers’ 47-yard line. Four plays later, the Bears took the lead for good, 24-20. Besides the one play to Hester, Masthay and the punt unit pinned the Bears at the 1-, 10-, 11-, and 13-yard line during the game.

While even the success the Packers had on special teams on Monday night was not enough to beat the Bears, Kuhn said the unit did well “situationally.”

“We pinned them deep with a couple punts, which were timely, and then obviously Lattimore’s block to get us down there and set the offense up with a short field, we ended up scoring a touchdown on the next play, so special teams played pretty well situationally,” Kuhn said.

The defense appreciated the improved special teams play as well.

“It’s big,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Any time you get field position and things like that from different areas of the game, it impacts the game. We needed more of those plays tonight. We just didn’t get it done. We just didn’t make enough plays.”

Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.

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