Two big special teams blunders and yet another mistake on the game-winning field goal from Robbie Gould proved to be critical turning points for the Green Bay Packers in their loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.
A blocked 39-yard field goal try at the end of the second quarter kept the Packers from taking a 10-0 lead into halftime. A blocked punt with five minutes remaining was returned for a touchdown by Talanoa Hufanga to tie the game at 10-10 and breathe life into the 49ers. Then as Gould setup for the game-winning 45-yard field goal attempt, the Packers had just 10 defenders on the field as Gould sent the 49ers through to the NFC Championship game.
The Packers finished the season ranked last in the NFL in long-time NFL writer Rick Gosselin’s respected special teams rankings list. The shortcomings in that area came back to bite the Packers at the worst time and end their Super Bowl aspirations early.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur knows it’s an area they have to devote energy to fix moving forward. Via Tom Silverstein and Kassidy Hill of PackersNews.com, LaFleur said he’s going to consider putting starters out on special teams units if he thinks it will help make a difference.
“That’s gonna be something that I wanna do some studies around the league and see how many teams operate that way,” LaFleur said. “Does it have some inherent risk? Absolutely.”
An illustration of that risk comes in the fact the Packers lost running back A.J. Dillon to a fractured rib while blocking on a kickoff return in the third quarter. Using key offensive or defensive players on special teams units will carry that risk.
However, making such critical mistakes regularly on special teams carries its own risk in that a blunder will occur at an incredibly critical moment.
“That’ll be a big-time priority for us moving forward is to not allow something like this to happen again, because it’s really disappointing when our defense goes out there and really dominates for four quarters,” LaFleur said.