There’s no place like dome.
Unfortunately for Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay, the final three regular-season games figure to be played in conditions ranging from bad to worse, starting on Sunday night at New England.
“Today, we went outside. And then on top of it, indoors we had everything open, so it was almost as cold inside as it was outside,” Masthay said on Thursday. “So, there’s that part of it. And it’s kind of mentally preparing myself, just trying to perform the best I can. Things will change a little bit. You can’t hit the ball as far or as high, but my goal is always to try and eliminate the returns as much as possible so that we can win that field-position battle. I just kind of take it game by game and try to deal with the conditions as best I can.”
In Masthay’s first taste of winter, he struggled two weeks ago against San Francisco at Lambeau Field. His three-punt average of 43.4 yards looked fine on paper but his punts were low and he benefitted from a couple of good bounces. However, special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum cared only about this: Masthay’s net average of 33.0 yards (with one inside-the-20 kick) was better than 49ers punter Andy Lee’s net of 32.4 (with two touchbacks).
“I think if you look at the San Francisco game, he beat his opponent,” Slocum said on Thursday. “I think that is really important on game day. How do you judge a punter? If you take that game and judge it against the game in Miami and the game in San Diego, you’re not talking apples and apples. I’m not concerned. I think it will be very important in this game in terms of field position. That normally is very important in a ball game (with) the weather conditions. We’ll try to out-punt the opponent’s punter and deal with the weather we have.”
For the season, Masthay ranks 14th in the NFL with a 44.3-yard average and 18th in net at 37.6. The Patriots’ rookie punter, Zoltan Mesko, ranks 18th in average (43.5) and 15th in net (38.0). Masthay has the edge in inside-the-20s punts (18-14) and touchbacks (4-5).
Masthay made his mark last week as the only punter in franchise history to average 50 yards (50.3) on at least eight punts.
“I must say, we were definitely sort of cherishing the last dome game,” Masthay said. “But it’ll be different from here on out. All of our games will be cold. It could be snowy, could be windy, whatever. So, the numbers might not wind up being so good, I may not hit it as far or as high, but it’s about winning the field position on that day against their punter and their returners.”
Blocking out the last game
Last week at Detroit, the Packers couldn’t run the ball and they couldn’t protect the quarterback.
This week, the offensive linemen know they need a big bounce-back game against the Patriots.
“No one was happy about it, no one played their best game,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “It’s just a matter of correcting those mistakes that we saw, getting back on the horse and going to work again. That’s what it comes down to. We just didn’t execute well fundamentally. It just wasn’t there.”
Even the Packers’ best lineman, right guard Josh Sitton, had a tough day, with a sack among Ndamukong Suh’s impact plays.
“It really motivates us to practice better,” Sitton said. “You want to get in and get the work done the right way, get back to the basics, get back to working hard at practice. If you do that, then everything will play out in the game just fine.”
Packers injury report
Out: DE Cullen Jenkins. Did not participate: QB Aaron Rodgers (concussion); LB Frank Zombo (knee). Limited participation: G Daryn Colledge (ankle); LB Clay Matthews (shin); DE Ryan Pickett (ankle); CB Charles Woodson (ankle/toe). Full participation: S Atari Bigby (hamstring); T Chad Clifton (knees); FB Korey Hall (knee); CB Pat Lee (ankle); G Josh Sitton (knee); S Anthony Smith (ankle).
Colledge, who was held out on Wednesday, said he would have been a full participant if a knee brace had arrived in time.
“I’ve played with worse and I’ve done different things,” he said. “It’s a different knee and that’s why we’re waiting on a brace. But I expect to continue the streak — and 220 more and I think I’ve got Brett (Favre), so I’ve got a goal.”
Patriots injury report
Did not participate: DL Ron Brace (concussion); NT Myron Pryor (back); GL Gerard Warren (knee); DL Mike Wright (concussion). Limited participation: QB Tom Brady (shoulder/foot); WR Deion Branch (knee); CB Devin McCourty (rib). Full participation: CB Kyle Arrington (elbow).
— Donald Driver has 9,499 career receiving yards, 157 behind franchise record-holder James Lofton’s 9,656 yards. Lofton will be the analyst on the national radio broadcast of Sunday night’s game. "He doesn't want that record to be broken, I know that,” Driver said. “It's been up there for a long time and if I can get it, it would be a great accomplishment for myself and I'd be happy that I took down a good man."
— In the last matchup between these teams, the Patriots rolled 35-0 at Lambeau Field on Nov. 19, 2006. Brady threw four touchdown passes. Brett Favre left the game with an elbow injury and Rodgers later broke his foot, ending his season.
— The weather for Sunday night in Foxboro, Mass: About 34 degrees and a 60 percent chance of snow at kickoff.
— Asked if he’s ever played in snow, Flynn — the former LSU standout — joked: “We played all the time in Baton Rouge.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.