Fourth-and-26 has always been a bad postseason memory for the Packers. Now, it can refer to something else.
That was the down and distance facing the Packers when they surprised all 70,543 fans in attendance at Lambeau Field on Thursday night with a fake field goal late in the second quarter.
It was the biggest single play in the 23-10 victory and one of the most shocking play calls in recent memory.
On the Chicago 27-yard line following consecutive sacks and needing to get all the way to the 1 for a first down, the Packers had holder Tim Masthay throw a shovel pass to tight end Tom Crabtree, who was moving from left to right behind the line while kicker Mason Crosby was running left as a decoy.
Crabtree caught the flip cleanly, and with the help of downfield blocks from backup linemen Evan Dietrich-Smith and Don Barclay on Chicago safety Chris Conte, Crabtree cruised into the end zone untouched.
“That’s like the call of the year right there,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Fourth and 26? You’d never think anyone would go for that.”
The touchdown upped the Packers’ lead from a shaky 3-0 to a more rewarding 10-0 count. The risk was immense because, had it not worked, the Bears would have had time to take the lead by halftime, and they were getting the ball to start the third quarter, as well.
Crabtree said before the snap he knew he was going to score, based on Chicago’s alignment. Crosby sensed the Bears were going for a big special-teams play of their own, trying to block the 45-yard field goal attempt. That played perfectly into the Packers’ hands.
“They had a rush on for the field goal, because with that much yardage for the first, it was pretty much get a touchdown or nothing,” Crosby said. “We were able to seal them off. You draw them up and you run them in practice and they work pretty good, but that one worked better than expected.”
It was the first TD pass of Masthay’s football life. He said he threw for a couple of two-point conversions in high school, but nothing as exciting as this. His 27-yard TD gave him a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
“It’s funny, because I literally shovel passed it four yards, and I have like a (perfect) QBR,” Masthay said. “But I’ll take it.”
The play is a feather in the special-teams cap of the Packers, who have closed the gap against the special-teams savvy Bears in recent years. Devin Hester has a couple of returns for touchdowns in his career against the Packers, but he’s been neutralized the last few seasons.
As a special-teams bonus, Crosby added a 54-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that ranks as the longest field goal ever by a Packers kicker at Lambeau Field. There had been a total of five 53-yarders by Packers kickers – two by Crosby, two by Chris Jacke and one by Ryan Longwell.
But the night will be remembered for the big fake. Last year in Week 3, Chicago’s Lovie Smith called for a trick punt return that Johnny Knox took the distance while the Packers coverage team was focused on Hester, but it was called back on a penalty.
On Thursday, it was Mike McCarthy catching the Bears off-guard, and there were no flags. McCarthy’s answer to Smith’s trickery was 353 days in the making. As far as fourth-and-26 goes, call it nine years.
“I can’t say it enough, my hat is off to him for calling it,” Masthay said. “It was an awesome call.”
Dance the night away: Veteran receiver Donald Driver didn’t play until the last few snaps in Week 1, and he didn’t play much on Thursday despite Greg Jennings’ absence due to a groin injury.
But Driver said during the week he’d be ready if his number was called, and he was. In the fourth quarter, on the first snap following Tramon Williams’ second interception of the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit a wide-open Driver over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown that put the Packers up, 23-3.
“When an opportunity presents itself, you have to make the best of it,” Driver said. “It was one straight down the middle, I guess they decided not to cover me. Wide open.”
Driver capped the score with a brief line dance in the back of the end zone, reminiscent of his championship performance on “Dancing With the Stars” in the spring.
Interestingly, even with Driver’s limited role late in his career, Thursday’s touchdown was his fourth score in his last six games, including the playoff contest last January. Dating back to his two-TD performance against the Giants in the 2011 regular season, Driver has six TDs in his last eight games.
Hauling the rock: Running back Cedric Benson’s 20 carries for 81 yards gave the Packers’ running game life. Benson looked much more confident in his reads than he did in his Green Bay debut last Sunday, when San Francisco held him to just 18 yards on nine carries.
“I think it’s fair to say that maybe last week I was a little anxious, trying to create something too fast,” Benson said. “This week I definitely stayed keyed in with the way we were blocking the plays, and wanted to be patient.”
Benson’s 20 carries were more than any single Packers running back had in a game last season, when Ryan Grant’s 17 carries against the Bears in Week 3 was the high mark. The last back to carry the ball more than 20 times in a game for the Packers was James Starks, who had 20-plus rushes in each of the 2010 NFC playoff games. Additional game coverage - Packers vs. Bears