Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay bobbles the ball in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
Giving punting the boot
Since 1933, the ten seasons in which Green Bay punted fewer than 40 times in its first 10 games.
No. Team Record
31 2011 10-0
34 1961 8-2
34 1963 8-2
34 1989 5-5
35 1962 10-0
37 2004 6-4
38 1960 6-4
39 1968 4-5-1
39 1983 5-5
39 1993 6-4
Looking for a statistic that sums up how well the Packers are doing this season?
Look no further than Tim Masthay, Green Bay’s punter.
The Packers improved to 10-0 with a hard-fought 35-26 win over the stubborn Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Lambeau Field. Only twice before (1929 and 1962) has the team opened with ten straight victories.
Statistical nuggets abound when speaking of the 2011 Packers. A little digging is all it takes to uncover another one.
Two of the more eye-popping are these: the team is on pace to score 568 points, second most in NFL history behind the 589 of the 2007 Patriots; and Aaron Rodgers (128.8 passer rating) has a shot at breaking Peyton Manning’s single-season NFL record of 121.1.
But there’s another, less publicized movement afoot: Green Bay hasn’t been punting as often as in the past.
That, perhaps, is as good an indicator as any as to how special this season has been.
Masthay punted three times against the Buccaneers. He sent a kick downfield once in the second quarter and twice in the third.
The first traveled 63 yards for a touchback. His second and third efforts both sailed 50 yards with the second pinning Tampa Bay at its 9-yard line late in the period.
Sunday was the fourth consecutive game in which Masthay punted three or fewer times. He’s had seven such games this year, the most over the course of the first 10 games in any season in Packers history.
Green Bay has punted 31 times, the fewest in its first 10 games going back to 1933. The previous record of 34 was held by the 1961, 1963 and 1989 teams.
Masthay’s run of sub-4 workouts began in the Metrodome on Oct. 23. There he got off kicks of 65, 64 and 49 yards all of which landed inside the Vikings’ 20-yard line.
In San Diego, he punted twice. He drove the kicks 55 and 53 yards late in the fourth quarter with Green Bay clinging to a 7-point lead.
Then, facing the Vikings on Monday night, he was called on twice in the second quarter. There he had boots of 52 and 47 yards.
That’s 10 punts in four games. Old timers such as Cub Buck and Clarke Hinkle used to have that many or more in one afternoon alone.
Masthay’s quick thinking and quick feet kept him from having four punts against the Buccaneers. He entered the game for the first time after a 5-yard pass from Rodgers to receiver Donald Driver left the team with a fourth-and-one at its 21-yard line.
Tampa linebacker Jacob Cutrera burst through looking for a block. Masthay aborted the kick, lost the ball, picked it up and raced to the 27 before fumbling again, this time out of bounds.
In becoming the first Packers punter to run for a first down since Jon Ryan in 2007, Masthay kept alive what turned out to be a 15-play, 88-yard advance. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji capped the 8-minute, 27-second drive with a 1-yard plunge for a 7-0 lead.
Perhaps a goal-line play involving Masthay is in the works. With 10 fewer punts than at this time last year, he might welcome the added involvement.
The reduction in Masthay’s workload hasn’t hurt, at least not in relation to his gross average. The second-year player is averaging 45.8 yards a punt which is better than Craig Hentrich’s team record of 45.0 set in 1997.
After having but one punt of 50 or more yards in the first five games (16 punts), Masthay has had 10 of that length in his last 15 punts. However, two of his three touchbacks have come in his last five outings as well.
Looking for a barometer as to how the Packers will do down the stretch? Fewer appearances by Masthay the punter and more by Masthay the holder — he’s held on all 43 of Mason Crosby’s extra points — should indicate Green Bay is faring well in its quest to grab the NFC North division title and secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.