By ZACH HEILPRIN
GREEN BAY -- The Green Bay Packers needed a spark.
Leading just 3-0 in the waning minutes of the first half of what turned into a 23-10 victory over Chicago, a promising drive stalled after two sacks and a third-down incompletion. That left the Packers facing fourth-and-26 from the Bears 27-yard line, and as expected, kicker Mason Crosby came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal.
That’s where things took a turn. The Packers finally got the look they’d been waiting to see for a couple years.
Long-snapper Brett Goode shot the ball back to holder Tim Masthay, who put the ball down as normal before flicking it to Tom Crabtree. The burly, tattoo-covered tight end followed pulling guard Don Barclay into a massive hole, running nearly untouched for a 27-yard touchdown.
“The guys did a great job blocking,” Crabtree said. “Tim (Masthay) had a great pitch and I just ran a straight line and that was about it.”
The play not only jumpstarted the team, but also a game that had been billed as a possible shoot-out between quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler.
“Everybody was pumped up,” Crabtree said. “The guys that weren’t really in on it – the offensive or defensive guys on the sideline – it kind of caught them off guard and they were wondering what happened. We were all pumped and it kind of got the juice going.”
Coach Mike McCarthy made the call and Crabtree said afterward that he had to double-check with the coach to make sure he heard him right.
“Frankly, fourth and 26 was not the plan,” McCarthy said. “I really called that for different reason. 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 the 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.”
It was a big play for Masthay, too. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first touchdown pass by a Green Bay punter since Ron Widby threw a 68-yard touchdown to wide receiver Dave Davis at Houston on November 19, 1972.
Masthay also became the first non-quarterback to throw a touchdown for the Packers since running back Tony Fischer tossed one to tight end Bubba Franks against Dallas in 2004.
“I’ll close the passing books for myself for the rest of my career on that,” Masthay said about his perfect passer rating of 158.3. “I had the smallest part of anybody on that whole thing. I just had to shuttle pass it to Tom (Crabtree), those guys blocked and he made a great run.”
The term fourth-and-26 doesn’t bring good thoughts for most Packers fans. It’s been almost nine years since Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb hit Freddie Mitchell for a first down in that situation in a divisional playoff that led to a 20-17 victory. But, for at least one night, fourth-and-26 was used in a positive way.
“It wasn’t a playoff game,” Masthay said. “But, it was a huge game, it was Chicago…definitely a big play.”
Zach Heilprin covers the Packers for WBEV and WXRO radio in Beaver Dam, sister stations of ESPNWisconsin. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zachheilprin.