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Packers special teams have unwanted target

Next game is shot at redemption for entire team


GREEN BAY—Mike McCarthy knows it. So does Shawn Slocum.

The Packers' special teams will be perceived as vulnerable by the opposition the rest of the way following another day of untimely breakdowns that have become a troublesome trend since the bye week.

On Sunday, it was a punt-return TD and a blocked field goal that made a difference in the 21-13 loss at Buffalo.

"Our special teams are going to be stressed down the stretch," McCarthy said on Monday. "We have to not only combat that but make plays ourselves."

Marcus Thigpen's 75-yard punt return for a score was the play that changed Sunday's game in McCarthy's view. It ended up being Buffalo's only touchdown.

"The punt was a little short and it looks like we overran it," Slocum said. "We had three, four guys in position to make the play, and we didn't do it."

The blocked field goal came on the heels of a blocked extra point the previous week, doubling the total of placekicks blocked this season to four (two FGs, two PATs). There have also been two punts blocked on the year.

McCarthy said he and the coaches don't feel they have the personnel "right" on special teams. Starting guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang were removed from the field-goal protection unit after the bye due to their respective toe and ankle injuries from the New Orleans game, which have significantly limited their practice time, and three of the four blocked kicks have occurred since then.

"We really haven't handled the transition from having T.J. and Josh not playing in there," McCarthy said. "We'll continue working different players in there and our opponent will continue to challenge us."

Slocum suggested the coaches might look at returning Sitton and Lang to those posts, but McCarthy emphasized it will depend on their health during the practice week.

"We have to do a better job in protection," Slocum said. "I said that last week, and we had another problem. It's just us playing the play the right way. That's something we have to do, and we have to put a stop to it."

In the locker room, kicker Mason Crosby said the special teams units must caution against taking the field solely trying to "prevent bad things from happening." Staying on the offensive is the mentality that will get things fixed.

"I don't think we've shaken any confidence," special teams veteran Jarrett Bush said. "This is a tough loss. There's definitely a flame in my chest, a salty taste in my mouth, but you look forward to the next competition to redeem yourself."

That was the prevailing thought of most of the players on Monday, regardless of their phase or role.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit had the best day on the team, but several missed tackles and a late third-down conversion were still bothersome. Capers said he counted three times defenders had a "clean shot" on a ball-carrier in the backfield and whiffed, with the runner then breaking away for positive yardage.

Offensively, the quarterback and receivers being out of sync was a rare sight, as were the multitude of dropped passes.

"It's baffling," receiver Jordy Nelson said of his wide-open drop on a potential 94-yard TD pass. "Didn't get it done. That's all it is.

"It will take a while. I haven't experienced one that bad, ever. We'll see. We need to get to a game."

There are two left on the schedule, but nobody is planning on playing only two.

"I think we have professionals in here, guys that continue to work, don't get too high, don't get too low, take a lot of pride in what they do, and we'll bounce back," Nelson said. "A couple games, hopefully we'll be in the playoffs and make a run. That's all that matters."


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