Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn't wait too long to run the first trick play of his NFL coaching career.
Trailing Chicago 16-0 with just over two minutes left in the first half Sunday, the Packers called for a fake punt on fourth-and-4 near midfield. Punter Jon Ryan surprised the Bears by throwing a pass in the right flat to Noah Herron, who made a fingertip grab and turned the play into a 16-yard gain for a first down at the Chicago 39-yard line.
"Before the game we kind of talked that we might use that, so be ready for it," said Ryan, who recalled the last threw a pass on a fake punt came as a senior at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan in 2003. "I was pretty pumped when we did call it.
"I saw that guy crossing pretty hard off the right edge, and I tried to plop it up over top of him, but by no means was it a beautiful throw. A couple bobbles, and he made a great catch."
Unfortunately, the Packers couldn't take advantage to get on the scoreboard.
An 11-yard sack of Brett Favre by Alex Brown pushed the Packers back before completions to Ahman Green and Robert Ferguson set up a 53-yard field goal attempt by Dave Rayner on the final play of the half. The kick sailed wide left.
So much for easing into it....
In his first NFL game, Ryan was a busy man. In addition to completing the pass on the fake punt, he also punted six times for a solid 45-yard average.
The downside came in the fourth quarter when Bears rookie Devin Hester broke free for an 84-yard return for a touchdown. According to Ryan, whose net average dropped to just 24.3 because of that long return, the irony is that it was one of his better punts that Hester turned into a score.
"I felt like I hit it fairly well," Ryan said. "I felt it was pretty good distance and hang time, and then that's the one they take back on you. It's just the way the world works, the way the game of football works."
On another note, Ryan also had something else to worry about, only it had nothing to do with football. His father Bob, who Jon said he is "very, very close to," had surgery yesterday after doctors found a tumor in his left hip flexor three weeks ago.
"It's tough being so far away and finding out stuff like that," Ryan admitted. "They're going to fly him to Calgary and continue treatment and radiation, and what-not. He's fighting through it right now. So we'll have to find out how the surgery went yesterday and go from there."
Giving one up
Hester's 84-yard punt return for a touchdown for Chicago was the first punt return for a score against Green Bay in four years.
Detroit's Az-Zahir Hakim had a 72-yard punt return for a score (with the help of a lateral from Eddie Drummond) on Sept. 22, 2002, in Detroit.
Hester took the 50-yard punt from Ryan, cut to his right and was never touched all the way down the field. Fairly or unfairly, linebacker Brady Poppinga took some of the blame for Hester's running lane being so clear.
"I wanted to make that play, I thought it was my fault," Poppinga said. "What happened was my guy was on the outside, and I thought they were going to try to run it off my left, so I was widening instead of going to the ball, which is a dumb mistake, and he cut it up when I was widening.
"The goal is to tackle the guy with the ball, not worry about where the blockers are at, so I felt like I could have made the play."
First time for everything
It was a day of firsts for Brett Favre on Sunday, and he undoubtedly hopes they don't happen again for a long time.
First, the Packers were shut out for the first time in Favre's career as the starting quarterback, and then he was called upon to do something he couldn't have recalled doing for quite some time: a quarterback sneak.
On fourth down at the Bears 44-yard line in the second quarter, the Packers needed less than six inches to move the chains. However, Favre put his head down and failed to convert the play into a first down, which turned the ball over to the Bears.
To be fair, the offensive line didn't get much of a push and Favre didn't have much of a chance, considering how infrequently he's completed such a task.
"It's been a long time," Favre said. "And people were asking me on the sidelines if I had gotten it, and I said, 'I don't know.' It was one of those if you don't get pushed backwards, you almost get it by default. I don't think I got pushed backwards, but do I think I got it?
"I have no idea. It was that close. I think that goes down to a coach and his mindset that if you need 3 or 4 inches that's the safest way to go. And it probably is. But I can't remember the last time I was asked to do it."
Favre admitted after the game that he probably didn't get many style points for his effort, either.
"There probably is kind of an art to a QB sneak," he said. "And it's been so long that I've done it, I've probably lost that art. I'm better off in space than in that situation."
Just off stride
Favre's one completion on the day to a tight end was his longest of the day, but it was nearly a much bigger play.
With the Bears leading 10-0 early in the second quarter, Favre found Donald Lee wide open over the middle. But his throw knocked Lee slightly off stride, and he stumbled to the ground as he made the catch. He got up and was eventually tackled for a 25-yard gain, but a chance to really gash the Bears' defense was lost.
"The game of football is a game of inches obviously," Favre said. "If I'm able to give Donald a little bit better throw, he might be go 65, 70 yards. But he doesn't."
Nearly broke one
Charles Woodson had just one punt return during the preseason but got three tries on Sunday, all in the fourth quarter, and averaged a solid 14.7 yards per return.
His best return was his first one, when he fielded a 45-yard punt by Brad Maynard, stepped up into the middle of the field and cut to his left where he had a wall of blockers. He gained 28 yards before being pushed out of bounds, marking the longest punt return of his NFL career. His previous best was 16 yards.
"It felt good to be able to have the ball in my hands and be in a position to make a play," Woodson said. "One more block, who knows what would have happened."
The most frustrating thing about the punt returns for Woodson was that he didn't get to attempt one until the fourth quarter. The Packers didn't force a punt in the first half, and Maynard's first punt of the second half went out of bounds inside the Green Bay 5.
"Those are the kind of plays you want early in the game," Woodson said. "You want to get off the field early in the game so you can get a chance to maybe have a punt return and bring the crowd to their feet and get them involved in the game."
The Lambeau Field record crowd of 70,918 on Sunday broke the previous mark of 70,688, which also came against the Bears on Sept. 19, 2004.
That was Bears head coach Lovie Smith's first game against Green Bay, which Chicago won 21-10. Smith is now 4-1 against the Packers, posting more wins over Green Bay in two-plus seasons than the Bears had in the previous 11 years.