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Another look at the 'play that didn't count'

Sep 26, 2011 -- 10:48pm

GREEN BAY – A day later, there was a begrudging tip of the cap, but little else.

For Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, as innovative as the Chicago Bears’ tricky punt return fake was, Johnny Knox’s 89-yard return for a soon-to-be nullified touchdown was more the result of the Packers’ ineptitude on the play than the Bears’ brilliance.

“That’s probably the most questions I’ve ever got about a play that didn’t count,” Slocum said after reporters asked more than a dozen questions about the play Monday afternoon.

The play didn’t count because Chicago’s Corey Graham was flagged for holding shortly after the ball left punter Tim Masthay’s foot. The flag landed at the Chicago 19-yard line just as Knox is catching the ball along the Packers’ sideline. After the game, Graham admitted that he grabbed Jarrett Bush's shoulder pad as the Packers gunner beat him inside off the ball.

"You're not happy about it, but officials made a call. It really hurt us at the time; didn't think that that penalty had a whole lot to do with the play," Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday. “It's a play that we had kind of set up earlier with a few things that we did. Worked out perfectly. That play really could have gotten us back in. We're onside kicking and have a chance on a game that we didn't really play well."

Asked about the play in his day-after-the-game news conference Monday, McCarthy said: “It's excellent design by Chicago and obviously was executed very well if it wasn't for the penalty. But there was a coverage issue from our standpoint that was not intact. But it's a good play. There's some things we'll look at as we move forward. (It was a) very well-executed play, and they actually did it earlier in the game, one where we downed the ball on the 2-yard line."

With 4:15 left in the third quarter, Masthay punted toward the right corner and the ball was downed by Pat Lee at the Bears’ 2, but a review of the FOX Sports broadcast does not show the Bears attempting any obvious type of misdirection as they did on the punt with 1:09 left to play in the game.

On that play, Masthay sent a punt toward the left sideline, as was called by Slocum. With the punt in the air, most of the Bears’ blockers – and returner Devin Hester – moved to the Packers’ right, as if the ball was headed that direction. Knox, meanwhile, had dropped off of blocking Bush with Graham at the line of scrimmage and was there on the left sideline to field the punt, with no one around to tackle him.

FOX play-by-play man Joe Buck incorrectly stated that Hester called for a fair catch on the play to dupe the Packers; based on the video shown on the broadcast, Hester never makes a fair catch sign. Instead, it simply looks like the Packers fell for the Bears’ misdirection with their blockers and dangerous returner.

“We have to have better awareness and better coverage,” Slocum said. “We should have had someone right in the face of the catch. There’s really two parts to the coverage. There’s the gunners, the outside men, and then there’s the core of the kick coverage, which are the inside the men. They can be headed the same direction or they can be headed different directions. It depends on the strategy.

“(Hester) is the primary returner. Knox lined up as one of the jammers on the gunner. We just need to have better awareness.”

Slocum said he had seen the tactic before in an NFL game, but it didn’t work as well as the Bears’ attempt. “I had seen it where the man (in Knox’s role) came out of position a little earlier so it was a little easier to recognize,” Slocum said.

And the Bears’ execution? “I think it was very well executed, sure,” Slocum said. “Except for holding.”

Here’s a look at a few of the video frames of the play from FOX Sports’ broadcast:

1. In the upper left corner of the screen, just below the FOX score graphic, you can see Bush (No. 24) beat Graham inside and Graham grab his left shoulder pad at about the Chicago 40-yard line.

2. One second later, it’s obvious that Graham pulls on Bush’s shoulder, impeding his progress downfield. Ticky-tack or not, the evidence is there for a flag if the official chooses to throw one – which he does.

3. Graham remains engaged with Bush at the Chicago 32-yard line, toward the upper right portion of the screen, along the numbers.

4. As the ball comes down toward the left corner of the field, as the call dictates, Knox can be seen at the Chicago 16-yard line, preparing to make an over-the-shoulder catch. Bush is at the Chicago 12, outside the left hashmarks, trying to locate the ball to down it.

5. Bush is now inside the Chicago 10, while Knox is about to catch the ball at the 11. All the other players on the field are in the middle or toward the opposite hash marks except Masthay, who is standing at the Packers’ 45-yard line. As he said after the game, he thought the play had been whistled dead given where his coverage team was compared to where the ball was.

6. Knox catches the ball on the sideline, just to the right of the superimposed FOX score box on the screen. Hester, meanwhile, is surrounded by Green Bay’s Jamari Lattimore, Robert Francois, Lee, John Kuhn and Tom Crabtree, all of whom are trying to ascertain where the ball is when Hester, at the 20-yard line, doesn’t have it.

7. Knox is headed up the Packers’ sideline. The penalty flag has landed at about the Chicago 19. The only two Packers players who seem to know what’s happening are Bush, who sees Knox taking off from behind, and Masthay, who is starting to angle toward the sideline in hopes of stopping him.

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