Shaky special teams finally cost the Packers a win

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It’s been a long time coming. Think of the long kickoff return leading to a touchdown and the near blocked field goal in San Francisco. Or the blocked field goal returned for a touchdown negated by a penalty against Pittsburgh. Or the three missed game-winning field goal opportunities in Cincinnati. On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers’ special teams finally cost Matt LaFleur’s team a win in Kansas City.

Three glaring mistakes resulted in a nine-point negative swing for the Packers in a six-point loss to the Chiefs.

Quarterback Jordan Love didn’t play particularly well in his starting debut. He struggled to beat the blitz. But his offense really should have scored 13 points, and when considering the special teams mistakes and the performance of the defense, 13 points probably should have been enough to win the football game.

The Packers missed two field goals of 40 yards or less; the first wide left by Mason Crosby, and the second blocked by the Chiefs. Blame for the two misses can be spread throughout the field goal operation. But the end result? Six lost points.

Rookie punt returner Amari Rodgers made a mistake not catching a short punt in the second quarter, and Malik Taylor found himself in the path of the live ball. It bounced off his foot and was recovered by the Chiefs, handing Kansas City an extra possession and three easy points.

Nine points. Six lost, three given. The Packers lost by six.

“We can’t have that happen,” LaFleur said post-game.

Later, Rodgers muffed around punt inside his 20-yard line but was very fortunate to recover.

Recurring issues got the Packers beat on Sunday. The field goal operation has been a mess all season. Crosby now leads the NFL in missed field goals (six) and blocked field goals (two). His field goal percentage is 68.4, which would be the second-lowest of his career.

Rodgers has been a mess as a punt returner. He isn’t confidently catching the ball, and when a returner lacks that confidence, he both hesitates to go get punts away from his area and struggles to consistently make clean catches. Even when he catches the ball, the rookie is doing little with the opportunity. He’s averaging 6.4 yards per return.

Special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton has to get a lot fixed. He’s had over two months to get the field goal operation fixed, but it remains a work in progress, and it might remain a work in progress as the new long snapper (Steven Wirtel) gets comfortable. And it’s probably past time to make the change at punt returner, especially with veteran Randall Cobb representing such an obvious answer as a replacement. At the very least, Cobb has proven over and over again that he can catch the football and make the right play as a returner.

The Packers defense was dominant on Sunday, holding the Chiefs to just one touchdown drive over 11 possessions. Without the botched punt, Patrick Mahomes would have scored 10 points.

A winning effort from Joe Barry’s group was wasted in part by the inefficiencies of the passing game under Love but mostly by the completely avoidable and recurring special teams mistakes.

How different would Monday feel in Green Bay had the special teams held up its end of the bargain? It’s certainly possible many would probably be celebrating Love’s fourth-quarter touchdown pass as a game-winner.

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