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Solid Debut For Special Teams

PHILADELPHIA - Keeping Eagles Pro Bowl returner DeSean Jackson contained was clearly a priority for the Packers in the season opener, and while they were able to accomplish that goal, they also got strong performances from all phases of their special teams on Sunday afternoon.


Jackson led the NFL last season with a 15.2-yard average on punt returns, and was one of only two players in the league (along with then-Dallas wide receiver Patrick Crayton) to score twice on punt returns. In just his second season in the league in 2009, Jackson also became the first Eagle to post three career scores on punt returns.

Packers first-year punter Tim Masthay, making his NFL regular-season debut, posted a 41.5-yard average on his four opportunities with a 38.0-yard net average, as Jackson was held to just a 7.0-yard average on his two returns.

It didn't hurt that the explosive Jackson didn't get a chance to even attempt a return until the fourth quarter, with Masthay getting solid hang time on his two first-half punts, 41 and 48 yards respectively, that forced him to call for fair catches near the sideline.

Masthay's only bad kick of the game came at a crucial time, with the Packers protecting a seven-point lead with a little over four minutes remaining. But the coverage unit came through, with fullback Korey Hall stopping Jackson for just a 10-yard gain out to the Philadelphia 24 on Masthay's low 37-yard kick down the middle.

"We were trying to eliminate DeSean as much as possible," Masthay said. "We were able to do that on the first three punts, and then luckily our coverage got him pretty decent on the last one too. But I hit a bad one on the last punt. I can't miss that punt.

"I went out there a little indecisive on what type of punt I wanted to hit, if I wanted to hit the end-over-end or if I wanted to hit a normal spiral punt. I decided to try and hit a normal spiral punt. They rushed it, and I just didn't time up my drop and swing and everything. It was just a bad punt."

With Jackson and Eagles kickoff returner Ellis Hobbs (23.3-yard average on four returns) held in check, the returner that made the biggest impact in Sunday's game was Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who registered a career-high 31.2-yard average (min. three attempts) on five returns.

Nelson got off to a slow start, posting an 18.5-yard average on his first two opportunities, but hit his stride in the second half. After the Eagles narrowed Green Bay's margin to 20-10 on a 12-yard touchdown run from running back LeSean McCoy, Nelson took David Akers' kick from 2 yards deep in the end zone out to the Green Bay 49.

The 51-yard return was the second longest of Nelson's career, and helped set up a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to wide receiver Greg Jennings just four plays later as the Packers answered.

"The guys up front did an extremely good job," said Nelson, who added a 40-yard return in the fourth quarter. "I think 99 percent of kickoff returns is blocking. It's the guys up front. We just run where we are supposed to run. If there is a hole, we run through it. If not, then we usually get tackled. So it was the guys up front that do such a great job and allowed me to get through. Now it is just up to me to get it a little farther.

"We just wanted to run downhill. We wanted to be north-south and get what we could get, and let the blockers block. We would just find the hole and go. We felt comfortable coming in and we were able to hit some holes and get some big ones and put our offense in a good situation."

While the Packers offense was able to put together three touchdown drives on the day, they also came away with points courtesy of two long field goals from Mason Crosby. The first came on a 49-yarder early in the second quarter, and the second one, as time expired in the first half, put Crosby into the franchise record book.

Green Bay had taken over at its own 23-yard line with only 41 seconds remaining and just one timeout left, and Rodgers quickly guided the offense down the field to the Philadelphia 38. Crosby connected on the 56-yarder, topping the franchise mark of 54 yards set by Chris Jacke, Ryan Longwell and Dave Rayner. What made the kick even more impressive was the fact that Crosby thought a Philadelphia player got a piece of the ball before it sailed through the uprights to give Green Bay a 13-3 advantage at the break.

"I was pumped I got to try that right before the half," said Crosby, who posted two 49-plus-yard field goals in the same game for the first time in his career. "Just to get those points, I think that was critical and it kind of spring-boarded us to kind of get on them there and be able to hold onto this win. I knew once we got the ball there, we're so efficient that I knew we would have a chance. It was kind of funny because we said the 38-yard line was the spot, and we got right to the 38."

Sunday's all-around showing from the special teams was a good start for a unit that is looking for improvement in all areas, but the players know that it is also just that, a start, and consistency will be the true measure.

"Our offense and defense are solid and we have to kind of be that bridge in between both of those," Crosby said. "I think the core guys we have on special teams are taking a lot of pride and making sure that regardless of the situation, we have to go down and make plays and just do our jobs. That is definitely how I am looking at it. When I step on the field I have got to do my job, and I think our team is taking that approach."

"This was a good special-teams challenge for us. We did a great job and I think that is a confidence booster. I don't think we are ever taking a team lightly, so it is one of those to come out and perform against a good team. We are doing our job and taking pride in the special teams. We have to keep doing that. These first games, it's good to have stuff that we did well, but we've got to build off it now and make sure we are better every week."

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