The timing seemed right, even if the call made no sense.
The Green Bay Packers faced a fourth-and-26 from the Bears’ 27-yard line. They led 3-0 in the second quarter. Mason Crosby and the kicking unit was about to trot on the field for what everyone assumed would be a routine field goal attempt.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy had other plans.
“When I heard him call the play,” began holder Tim Masthay, “I’m thinking, ‘It’s fourth-and-26. We know this, right?’”
Showing no regard for the odds or that points might be at a premium in a slugfest between two rivals, McCarthy called for a fake. It worked to perfection.
When Masthay flipped a pass to Tom Crabtree, the right side of the Packers’ punt protection line opened like the Red Sea. Crabtree made the simple catch and went 27 yards for the first touchdown of the game. It was the spark the Packers needed in a 23-10 victory over the Bears.
“It kind of got us going for the rest of the game,” said Crabtree. “I think we were already doing a great job of our defense making some big plays and the offense was moving the ball well, but I think at that point in time it might have put us over the top, might have got us going.”
Crabtree had a hunch about the play from the start.
“I knew it before the ball was even snapped,” he said. “I could kind of peek the way they were lined up and, being fourth-and-26, it’s one of those things, the element of surprise, catching them off-guard, that’s the biggest thing on that play.”
The Packers got the exact look they were looking for from the Bears when they got ready for the field goal attempt, which made all the difference.
“I looked at their alignment and knew we had them outnumbered,” said Crabtree. “Then all it came down to was catching the pitch and just turning and running upfield.”
The Bears had their rush on. Had Masthay not seen the overload of the Bears’ line, he had the authority to call off the fake. Instead, the overload allowed the right side of the Packers’ line to open up, with Don Barclay pulling and Crosby acting out the fake to the left. A double-team block sealed the right side and allowed Crabtree to run free straight up the field.
Masthay became the first Packers punter in 40 years to throw a touchdown pass. The last to do so was Ron Widby at Houston on Nov. 19, 1972.
Continuing a big special teams night for the Packers, Crosby also connected on a 54-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to set a Lambeau Field record for a Packers kicker.
But in the end, it was McCarthy’s fake that resonated.
“Everybody was pumped up,” said Crabtree. “The guys that weren’t really in on it, the offensive and defensive guys on the sideline, it kind of caught them off-guard, too. They were probably wondering what happened. We were all pumped. It kind of got the juice going.”
“Frankly, fourth-and-26 was not the plan,” said McCarthy. “I really called that for different reasons. It’s a play fake. We’ve been working on that for two or three years and we were looking for a certain look from the Bears. They gave it to us and it was a great execution on our players’ part. I was trying to send a message when I made that call and I was fine with the field position. Then our guys executed and I thought it really lifted our sideline up and our defense just kept going. Offensively, we were able to put some points on the board. It was a big play in the game.”
So just what was that message?
“I’m just going to stick with gutsy,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “That’s quite a call. I’m glad it worked.”
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org