The Green Bay Packers had been riding a high on special teams after shutting down the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester in the regular season must-win season finale and then the Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Reality then sunk back in following Eric Weems' 102-yard kick return for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round. The return didn't end up costing the Packers the game, but the task doesn't get any easier this week when the Packers are faced with stopping Hester once again.
Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum and his punt return unit were roundly praised after the Week 17 win in which they were able to render Hester ineffective.
"I thought the ball placement was very good," said head coach Mike McCarthy on Monday. "I thought we covered the ball well. Our special teams played extremely well in that football game."
The Packers limited Hester to just two returns for a total of 35 mostly harmless yards as several Packers special teamers shared in the responsibility for keeping the electric return man in check.
With an offense only able to put up 10 points on the scoreboard on Jan. 2, punter Tim Masthay placed four of his eight punts inside the 20 and forced one fair catch.
For long snapper Brett Goode, in addition to flawless snaps on every punt, he registered both tackles on Hester's two returns on the day.
And postseason captain Jarrett Bush downed two of Masthay's punts inside the Bears' own 5-yard line.
Packers cornerback and fellow punt returner Tramon Williams had nothing but nice things to say about his counterpart who will be on the opposing sideline this Sunday in the NFC championship game.
"From watching film, everything he does is great," said Williams. "He has the vision and the ability, everything that – coach said he's the best ever. So I feel the same way."
The last time the Packers played at Soldier Field, however, they didn't fare so well when in punt formation.
Hester was able to take a low line-drive punt from Masthay to the house on a 62-yard return for a touchdown in Week 3's 17-20 loss to the Bears.
With weather liable to be a factor in Sunday's rematch, the Packers will once again have their hands full, according to McCarthy.
"Their specialists are obviously very talented," said McCarthy. "The returners are very talented, so they factor in the field position in the game.
"There's going to be some type of wind, there always is down there. Projected only about nine to 10 miles an hour but we'll see what happens on Sunday. Special teams is clearly one of the strengths of their football team."
The Packers defense will also be guarding against Hester's big-play ability on offense as well. As a wide receiver he had 40 catches for 475 yards and four touchdowns this season.
"He can do everything," said linebacker A.J. Hawk. "Once he gets the ball in his hands, he's tough to stop, tough to get down ... When he gets the ball, he might make a few moves, make the first guy miss. He gets vertical quick."
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