When Carolina kicker John Kasay took a direct snap on a 52-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter on Sunday, the Packers were prepared.
Having seen Carolina execute a pooch punt from a field-goal formation on film two weeks ago against Tennessee, the Packers worked on that very scenario during the special teams portion of practice on Friday, and the preparation allowed them to pull off the biggest play in Sunday's 31-17 victory at Lambeau Field.
Return man Tramon Williams lined up around the 10-yard line off to the right side where Kasay, a left-footed kicker, would aim his pooch. That forced Kasay to kick the ball to the middle of the field, and as it bounced inside the 10-yard line, Williams was able to run it down.
And when he got a big block from Johnny Jolly on lineman Justin Hartwig near the goal line, suddenly Williams had a convoy of blockers down the right sideline and he ran 94 yards for the game's first touchdown, managing to keep his balance near midfield when he ran into one of his teammates, Jason Hunter.
"When I had a couple blockers on the side of me guiding me to the end zone, I knew they wouldn't let anybody come and tackle me," Williams said. "And they had a bunch of linemen on the field, so I really wasn't running full speed after I got past the 50."
Williams' big return is tied for the second-longest punt return in franchise history.
Mark Lee also returned a punt 94 yards for a score against the New York Giants on Nov. 8, 1981. The team's longest is Steve Odom's 95-yard return against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 10, 1974.
Williams' return is also the longest by a Packers player at Lambeau Field. The previous two returns mentioned were at Milwaukee County Stadium. There have been two 95-yard punt returns at Lambeau by opponents - Cincinnati's Carl Pickens (Sept. 20, 1992) and Tampa Bay's Jacquez Green (Sept. 13, 1998).
Another long return
Koren Robinson had come close to breaking into the clear on a couple of kickoff returns in the past few weeks, but he finally got free on Sunday.
Robinson returned the second-half kickoff 67 yards, emerging from a crowd of players around the Green Bay 20-yard line, cutting to his right and then making some nifty moves to take the ball all the way to the Carolina 28-yard line.
"It broke down on the left side," Robinson said. "There were guys in front of me, so I looked back to my right and just saw a lot of room. I was like ooh, if I can just make a couple guys miss, it could be big."
It was, and four plays later, Brett Favre found Donald Lee for a 12-yard touchdown and the Packers had a 28-3 lead.
"It's definitely a big spark, and it's definitely a big part of the game," Robinson said of special teams, talking about the long returns by both him and Williams. "I feel like you have to win the special teams battle to give your team the edge in the game, and I believe that's what we did today."
The Packers went back to their "Big Five" formation of five wide receivers again Sunday and it produced more positive results.
Like last week against Minnesota, the first time the Packers lined up in "Big Five" - an empty-backfield set with receivers Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Robinson and Ruvell Martin all lined up wide - it forced the defense to call a timeout. On the ensuing play, Favre threw incomplete to Robinson on third down, forcing a punt.
Then on the Packers' final scoring drive of the first half, the offense went to "Big Five" or a variation of it on a string of plays. On two straight snaps, Favre completed passes of 5 yards to Jones and 13 yards to Driver, who ran a short crossing route against linebacker Thomas David, the very mismatch a five-receiver set is designed to exploit.
Then on the next two snaps, the Packers went with four receivers and a tight end, another empty-backfield set. Favre again hit Driver for 11 yards and then found Lee open down the middle for a 26-yard touchdown for a 21-3 lead with 1:16 left in the first half.
"It's mismatches versus time (to throw) is what we're playing against," Favre said.
"If I was a defensive coordinator, I don't know who you stop or who you go in saying, OK, this is what we (have to prepare for) ... And for us that's a good thing. We have enough diversity to present its own set of problems."
The Packers added a 7-yard pass to Jones to convert a third-and-2 in the fourth quarter out of "Big Five."
With the Thanksgiving game in Detroit coming up in four days, the players will take Monday off, have short practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and then fly to Detroit on Wednesday afternoon.
During a normal work week, Wednesday is the longest practice and then there are three more days to prepare to play, so defensive end Aaron Kampman said he looks at Sunday's game as having just finished the Wednesday practice.
"You're going to be playing real quick, so you just have to set that in your mind," he said. "It's going to take a lot of mental toughness, but I think our guys have displayed that this year."
The Packers got a bit of a scare late in the game when starting running back Ryan Grant went down with an ankle injury. But Grant got up and walked off the field under his own power, and he says it shouldn't keep him out of the Thanksgiving game.
"Just twisted it, kind of fell on it the wrong way," Grant said. "It should be fine by Thursday. It will probably stiffen up a little bit tonight, but I'll be OK. I can jump on it, which is a good thing. If I can jump on it, I'll be OK."
Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly also left the game with a shoulder injury, sustained on his big block during Tramon Williams' 94-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he expects Jolly to be fine, and the fact that the team is playing again in four days factored into his decisions not to have Grant or Jolly return to the game.