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'Swervin' Ervin' boosts the Packers' punt return team

Kenny Clark gets back in the sack column against Washington

Packers returner Tyler Ervin
Packers returner Tyler Ervin

GREEN BAY – For weeks, the Packers have been searching for someone to provide a spark for a punt return unit that entered Sunday's game against Washington with minus-8 yards through the first 12 games of the season.

Enter Tyler Ervin.

Claimed off waivers from Jacksonville on Tuesday, Ervin made a positive first impression on Green Bay's special teams with his four punt returns for 51 yards. His production factored heavily into the Packers winning the field-position battle with Washington.

His four returns of 10, 12, 18 and 11 yards gave Green Bay the ball at the 50, Washington 48, Green Bay 43 and Washington 49. Both of the Packers' touchdowns on Sunday came on series after Ervin returns.

"Swervin' Ervin. That's my guy. Swervin' Ervin," said running back Aaron Jones, who shares a position room with Ervin. "It's definitely game-changing. It flips the field. We started a lot of drives on the plus side or midfield or 40. Anytime you do that, you get a smile. That's a weapon that you can use. I'm glad we have him here. Look forward to seeing him return."

To this point, the Packers had primarily used rookie receiver Darrius Shepherd and second-year cornerback Tremon Smith to navigate the season. With Ervin, the Packers got a veteran who had returned 61 punts and 34 kickoffs in three-plus NFL seasons.

While he didn't get a chance to return a kickoff Sunday, Ervin displayed the experience and peripheral vision against Washington the Packers were hoping he would. What's more, Green Bay's jammers and blockers had their best performance of the season to give Ervin time to work.

Ervin fielded the ball naturally, and with Tress Way mainly punting to the middle of the field, Ervin effectively utilized space before working north and south. On his 18-yard return at the end of the first quarter, Ervin saw through traffic to push the ball to Washington's 43.

"I think I did a pretty good job," Ervin said. "Just have to go and watch the film tomorrow and see where we can improve. Me definitely, just have to continue to get my head down and get as much as I can. Try not to force anything but when the yards are there, I just have to take them."

Clark's big day: After nearly three months of being within eyelashes of several sacks, defensive tackle Kenny Clark's patience was finally rewarded Sunday with a team-high 1½ sacks against Washington.

It hasn't been for a lack of trying. Entering the weekend, Clark had the fourth-most pressures (46) of any defensive tackle in the league, behind only Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox and Cameron Heyward.

However, Clark didn't have an official sack since a strip-sack of Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins back in Week 2. That changed Sunday with both of Clark's sacks of Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins coming on third-down plays.

"I've been pressing the quarterback all year and I just wasn't able to get the guy down with the ball," Clark said. "I got two today, so hopefully it just keeps rolling. I just focus on doing my job, focus on winning my one-on-ones and doing what I gotta do to help the team win."

Linebacker Kyler Fackrell shared the first-quarter sack with Clark, while Preston Smith moved to 11½ on the year with his sack of Haskins in the second quarter. Afterward, Za'Darius Smith playfully campaigned for half credit on Preston's.

"Could get adjusted," smiled Za'Darius, who had three tackles and a forced fumble.

Tight-end takeover: With Robert Tonyan healed from a midseason hip injury and rookie Jace Sternberger back from injured reserve, the Packers developed a game plan incorporating all four of their tight ends against Washington.

Green Bay utilized a bevy of packages with multiple tight ends and it helped factor into its fast start on offense. With veterans Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis leading the way, the Packers' tight ends combined for five receptions and 66 yards.

It was highlighted by Tonyan's 12-yard touchdown in the first quarter, which marked the second-year tight end's first score since his 54-yard TD against Seattle last November.

"I think that's a compliment to how hard the tight ends have been working and how successful our room is, and how confident we play," said Tonyan, who missed five games with a hip injury. "We finally got to be put together with all of us being on the field. We just want to continue to do that."

Worthy causes: As part of the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" initiative, kicker Mason Crosby wore two commemorative cleats throughout Sunday's game.

The first, in partnership with the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation, had drawings of his wife, Molly, on one shoe and his late sister-in-law Brittany on the other. Molly underwent surgery in August to remove a cancerous tumor from her lung, while Brittany passed away on Nov. 29 after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer.

"It was special but honestly it was kind of tough at the same time," said Crosby, who made field goals from 32 and 33 yards. "In pregame especially, I was looking down and thinking about them and the fight that so many people have against cancer. It obviously compels me to do as much as possible to fight the horrible disease."

The other special cleat was in support of his mother Karen's nonprofit, The Locker, which is a student-led organization that provides everyday essentials to children of need in the Georgetown, Texas, area.

While he utilized the same kicking shoe throughout the game, he made kicks with both "My Cause, My Cleats" shoes on his plant foot. Crosby said he plans to auction off both cleats to raise money for the initiatives.

Packers kicker Mason Crosby's shoes

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