Green Bay Packers Notebook: Special Teams Prove to Be Costly Again

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IDecember 21, 2010

With two minutes and 17 seconds left on the second quarter clock, the Green Bay Packers had just taken a 10-point lead on the heavily favored New England Patriots.

Greg Jennings' one-yard touchdown catch put the Packers up 17-7, and it appeared that Green Bay had total control of the game heading into halftime.

That all changed with one Patriots offensive lineman bumbling down the sidelines after another Packers special teams miscue. 

Guard Dan Connolly took the attempted squib kickoff and returned it 71 yards, breaking several tackles and in general making the Packers look foolish once again.

"That's an unpredictable ball and (Connolly) did a good job catching it," said special teams coach Shawn Slocum. "But we should have tackled him right away. We shouldn't be sitting here talking about this."

The Patriots would score a touchdown three plays later, cutting the lead to 17-14, and the game took a decisive turn. Again, special teams were the culprit for the Packers. 

It's something we've seen plenty of throughout the Mike McCarthy era in Green Bay. Special teams have always been an up-and-down, hot-and-cold type endeavor. 

This season has been the most destructive for the Packers' special teams, however, and there needs to be a change in coaching of the unit at the end of the season. 

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The Packers gave Slocum a second chance after a decidedly poor first season at the helm, but he hasn't made the most of it this year. 

In fact, the unit has been a decisive factor in far too many losses this season.

Let's take a look back:

  • Week 3 in Chicago, Devin Hester returns a punt 62 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Mason Crosby also misses a field goal in the 20-17 loss.
  • Week 5 in Washington, Crosby misses as time expires on a 53-yard field goal that would have won the game. He finishes the game 2-of-4 on FG attempts. 
  • Week 6 against Miami, linebacker Robert Francois lines up over center on a Dolphins punt and draws a penalty. That gives Miami a first down, and they score a touchdown on the drive. Green Bay loses in overtime. 
  • Week 12 in Atlanta, linebacker Matt Wilhelm grabs Eric Weems' facemask on a kickoff return inside a minute left, and that sets the Falcons up at their own 48-yard line. Matt Ryan leads them into field goal range, and the Packers lose by three.
  • Week 15 in New England, Connolly rumbles 71 yards on a kickoff return to set up a critical Patriots touchdown before the half. Packers lose by four. 

In all, special teams have been a contributing factor in five out of the Packers' six losses.

That kind of ineptitude needs to be held accountable, and that means the Packers need to send Slocum packing.

The Bears Are Champs

While it took a while to sink in, the Chicago Bears' 40-14 win last night over the Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North title.

It was an unlikely scenario when the season began, and you have to hand it to Lovie Smith. His job was on the line this year, and his team responded with a division-winning season.

I still firmly believe that the Bears are the division's second best football team, but the fact remains that you don't win division titles by losing to the Detroit Lions. That loss all but gave the division to the Bears.

However, the Packers can still take comfort in controlling their own destiny. With two wins in their last two games, the Packers will earn an NFC wild card berth.

Both games are at home as well, so the Packers should have every opportunity to secure the last NFC playoff spot.

Forget the Packers' first 14 games—the playoffs begin this week for Green Bay.

Giants' Rolle Guarantees a Win 

The New York Giants had one of the more memorable meltdowns in recent memory on Sunday in losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, but that didn't stop safety Antrel Rolle from running his mouth.

In fact, when asked about beating the Packers, Rolle all but guaranteed a win on Sunday.

"I don't think. I know it. I don't think it, I know. I know it's going to happen this weekend."

Those are confident words from a man whose defense was shredded by Michael Vick and the Eagles in the second half of their loss.

Rolle has a history of speaking out in interesting ways. Packers fans should remember his comments after the Cardinals beat the Packers in the wild card game last season.

“Let me tell you something—that dude is scary,” Rolle said about Aaron Rodgers. “We have a great defense, and we were up on him and ready to pounce, and he found ways to tear us apart.

“I don’t ever want to face him again in my life. I am dead serious. I’ll face Drew Brees any day of the week before I face him again.”

Maybe Rolle forgot, but that "dude" will be the starting quarterback on Sunday for the Packers. Time for Rolle to put his money where his mouth is.