LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

The Green Bay Packers were nearly devoid of return threats on punts or kickoffs during the 2016 season.

It was a special teams unit that improved in coverage from the season before, but was exposed in the Indianapolis Colts debacle at Lambeau Field on Nov. 6. Remember the opening kickoff that afternoon?

A unit with a new punter that got the job done after a shaky start and a veteran kicker who is among the best in the league. In the regular season, Crosby led Green Bay with 122 points and ended the game against the arch-rival Bears at windy Soldier Field in dramatic fashion.

This week, Packer Plus presents our list of the three top plays by Green Bay’s special teams in the regular season. Vote for your favorite top play here or in our poll at the end of this story (note: some users may need to refresh this page to see the poll).

Here are the plays in chronological order:

TY MONTGOMERY’S OUT-OF-BOUNDS PLAY ON KICKOFF VS. LIONS

Packers 34, Lions 27; Sept. 25 at Lambeau Field

Packers.comWatch the video

While many football fans in the stadium were oblivious to the “straddle rule,” Montgomery was well aware. And it made a huge difference in field position for the offense.

Instead of being pinned near the goal, a flag was thrown on the out-of-bounds kickoff and the Packers started at the 40-yard line.

“No panic,” Montgomery told reporters after the game. “I knew what I wanted to do. I had already signaled to the guys blocking ... either I was going to keep it in the end zone, or I was going to do what I did.”

What he did was turn a negative into a positive.

Leading 7-3 in the first quarter, Detroit had just tallied a field goal and kicked off to Green Bay. Matt Prater’s kick bounced at the 2-yard line, then into the end zone, and back into the field of play at the 2.

The ball was live, and Montgomery ran a half circle around the football and stuck his feet out of bounds. He then dropped to the ground and stretched out to grab the ball and secure it with his right hand, bringing it into his body just as Lions defenders arrived. Per NFL rule, if the returner touches the ball for the first time when out of bounds, the ball is ruled out of bounds.

“Really,” Montgomery said, “the only thing I have to be cognizant of is that I don’t touch the ball before I establish myself out of bounds. That’s why I started out of bounds, and then tried to get the ball. You don’t have to be from Stanford to do that.”

Four plays later, Green Bay capitalized on the short field with a touchdown for a 14-3 lead to break the game open.

TREVOR DAVIS’ 55-YARD PUNT RETURN VS. FALCONS

Falcons 33, Packers 32; Oct. 30 at Georgia Dome

Packers.comWatch the video

Davis and his speed gave a boost to the dormant Green Bay kick return game in the third quarter of this shootout in Atlanta.

Leading, 14-13, with 5:56 left in the second quarter, the rookie receiver from California fielded a booming punt at the Packers’ 30-yard line.

Davis outran two defenders to the right edge and broke up-field down the right sideline. At full speed he easily side-stepped the kicker’s feeble tackle attempt at the Falcons’ 39-yard line, then ran by another defender at the 25 before finally being downed by two tacklers at the 15 as he cut inside.

There were no booming blocks on the return — it was essentially the pure speed of Davis that made the 55-yard play.

The rookie from Cal finished what he started, diving to snare Aaron Rodgers’ 9-yard touchdown strike just inside the pylon for a 21-13 lead.

Davis had two punt returns in the game for 60 yards, but his electrifying 55-yarder turned out to be the Packers’ longest return of the season.

Speed kills.

“They talked about his speed just a little bit earlier,” said Fox television analyst Troy Aikman. “He just flat runs away from people.”

MASON CROSBY’S GAME-WINNING FIELD GOAL AS TIME EXPIRED

Packers 30, Bears 27; Dec. 18 at Soldier Field

Packers.comWatch the video

As usual, Crosby was warming up on the sideline just waiting for his opportunity.

Only 31 seconds remained on the clock in regulation when quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense took the field. Game tied, 27-27. First down at the Packers’ 26-yard line and a pro-Chicago crowd howling for a stop.

Rodgers had other ideas. There were no knee-downs or conservative handoffs to Ty Montgomery, who had already ripped the Bears defense for 162 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns.

Green Bay went to the air. On third down and 11, Rodgers launched a high arching pass down the middle of the field to a streaking Jordy Nelson. The veteran receiver ran a post pattern against quarters coverage and beat his lone defender to snare the perfectly thrown ball with two hands before he fell to the turf.

Crosby took the field, and calmly blasted the football 32 yards through the uprights for a 30-27 victory. It’s a chip shot in good weather, but this one was anything but routine in Soldier Field, with gusting winds off Lake Michigan on an afternoon featuring minus-4 wind chill.

“The fact that I had a 32-yard game-winner, that definitely wasn’t in my mindset there,” said Crosby, who was mobbed by his teammates after the walk-off kick. “I was preparing for a long one. So it was nice. The wind was blowing pretty hard right to left there. But from that distance, I just said I’m going to aim hard right down the middle.”

Rodgers made a simple post-game statement on Crosby: “Best kicker in the league.”

TOP PLAYS: Offense | Defense

Packer Plus is published 40 times a year by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Send email to martinwhendricks@yahoo.com

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE