Until the moment the ball dropped to the grass of Candlestick Park, Jeremy Ross thought he had a chance for a big play.
So even with heat-seeking pressure from the San Francisco gunners fast approaching, the first-year returner believed he could make them miss, hoping to spark the Green Bay Packers’ squad that took a chance on him last month when he was promoted from the practice squad.
Instead, the muffed punt morphed into disaster. Unlike the botched lateral pass from Randall Cobb against Chicago last month, Green Bay wasn’t staked to a comfortable lead, either.
The 49ers scored three plays later to tie the game 14-14. It would be the final time the Packers held a lead in the 45-31 loss in the NFC divisional round on Saturday night.
When it was over, Ross stood inside his locker and accepted blame. Hindsight being what it is, he probably should have fair caught it. The reality was he didn’t.
Following the fumble, the Packers benched the 24-year-old in favor of their usual return man, Randall Cobb, who finished the game fielding both kickoffs and punts.
Ross entered the returning picture after Cobb left with an ankle injury in the second-to-last game of the regular season against Tennessee. Since then, he’s shown the natural strength and explosiveness to be a candidate to replace Cobb if Packers coach Mike McCarthy decides to use the budding play-maker strictly on offense.
Ross wouldn’t say if he’s done enough to desire consideration for that spot, but he hopes to be in the team’s plans despite the mishap.
“It’s not meant for me to say whether I’ve done enough,” Ross said. “That’s up to the Coach and sort of what he expects, and wants, but I’m going to work really hard in this offseason to try to come back a better me.”
After being used only on kickoff returns last week, Ross said his inclusion on punt returns was a “game-time decision,” the same approach as the team has taken in recent weeks.
Regardless, he was confident just like he was throughout his career at the University of California where he finished as the Golden Bears second all-time leading punt returner.
“I felt good,” Ross said. “I always approach it confident. Even after this tragic situation, I’m going to be confident. It’s just a mistake and everybody makes mistakes.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.