Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay runs with the ball after a botched punt in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
Tim Masthay was a Kentucky senior playing Tennessee in 2008 the last time he ran the ball. He was set to punt when a low snap threw off the timing and he was forced to run or get the kick blocked. Masthay said he took the hardest hit of his life on that play — from now-New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Masthay got to play ball carrier again Sunday at Lambeau Field during the Packers’ 35-26 win over the Buccaneers.
The Packers were forced to punt when their first drive of the game stalled and a blocking snafu left Jacob Cutrera running free. Masthay pulled the ball down and began to run right, but fumbled. He scooped it up and there wasn’t a Buccaneers player in the area. Masthay sprinted right, picked up the first down and lost his footing near the sideline — where he fumbled again. The ball took a few Packers-favorable bounces and went out of bounds.
That’s one rush, six yards, two fumbles and one fumble recovery.
“That’s impressive isn’t it?” Masthay joked in the locker room.
The sequence was the first of several odd special teams plays that had a significant impact on the outcome. Instead of punting on that series, the Packers continued a 15-play, 88-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead.
The second quirky play came after the Buccaneers cut the lead to 14-10 on Connor Barth’s 23-yard field goal. The visitors lined up for a normal kickoff and snuck in an onside kick with the ball dribbling right toward rookie D.J. Smith. Barth ran straight ahead and dove for the ball at the same time as Smith. After bodies were pulled from the pile, Barth jumped up with the ball. Replay, however, showed Barth illegally touched the ball before it traveled 10 yards. No harm, but Smith should have waited for the ball to travel the 10 yards before attempting to recover.
“It’s tough for D.J. because he’s stuck in that position — should I be aggressive and go get a free ball that’s sitting in front of me or should I sit back and wait for it to go the 10 yards?” fullback John Kuhn said. “He made the decision. Unfortunately, the ball kicked away, but fortunately, they touched it first.”
Kuhn said the team regularly discusses the situation — about being aware of the 10 yards — but it’s a split-second decision at times. Williams said he and Brandon Saine recognized what was coming when two smaller players aligned in positions normally occupied by others.
“I think it’s too much gray area, because if I’d stayed back maybe it would have squirted up or rolled up and he was already in position (to recover),” Williams said, “and if I wouldn’t have attacked it like I did, it’s hit or miss. But I’ll just play it more honest.”
The Packers began their drive on the Tampa Bay 38-yard line and Jordy Nelson caught a 5-yard touchdown from Aaron Rodgers on the fifth play of the series.
The Buccaneers ran the same onside kick after Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman threw a 2-yard touchdown to Dezmon Briscoe and put the score at 28-26 with 4:25 left in the fourth quarter. This time, the Packers lined up for an onside return with Charles Woodson the lone deep man. Kuhn recovered it cleanly, and the Packers scored on a 40-yard pass from Rodgers to Nelson three plays later.
Just as odd as the punting fiasco was Mason Crosby missing a 29-yard field goal with 1:36 left in the game. Crosby had connected on a franchise-record 23 straight field goals before the miss. The ball was placed on the left hashmark and it careened off the right upright.
“I actually hit it how I wanted to — aiming inside-right upright,” Crosby said. “Ball jumped off, started moving left and it just kind of tailed off and hit that upright. From that distance, I just need to drill it through.
“One of those I just gave a little bit too much credit to the wind from that short and just need to hit it straight through.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @kareemcopeland.