Packers prepare for Devin Hester (again)

Green Bay -- They meet again. Last year, Tim Masthay neutralized Chicago Bears' returner extraordinare Devin Hester in the regular-season finale and NFC Championship. Masthay established favorable field position in two must wins. Now, for the Bears to have a chance at an upset on Christmas Day, Hester will likely have to play a big role. Chicago is decimated by injuries on offense and may start journeyman Josh McCown.

Masthay, fresh off a 71-yard punt at Kansas City, squares off against the man leading the NFL in punt-return average (18.5).

"We’ve had pretty solid production but Devin Hester’s a remarkable returner," special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. "We’ll have our hands full. We’ve got a lot of experience playing him. Let’s do it."

A year ago, Masthay's ability to knife punts through the cold and wind was critical. After Hester's 62-yard punt return for a score helped Chicago edge Green Bay in the teams' first meeting a year ago, he was shut down in the two rematches.

Masthay pinned nine of his 16 punts inside the 20. In the Week 17 win that got Green Bay into the playoffs, Masthay had punts downed at the Bears' 3- and 2-yard line. And in the NFC title game, Hester mustered only 5.3 yards per return. His 58-yarder forced Chicago to start at its own 29-yard line with 3:07 to go, Green Bay clinging to a one-score lead. The Packers eventually held on and reached the Super Bowl.

Of course, with all this attention toward Hester, the Bears may do this again. A trick play -- nullified by a holding call -- completely took the Packers off guard earlier this season.

Overall, Slocum says he's not concerned about the risks in kicking away from Hester. Be it trick plays or a low net. With the Bears' offense struggling mightily to score points -- they have two touchdowns the last three games -- Hester remains their one wild card. Teams continue to try to kick away from him, though he's still done damage on his 24 punt returns this season.

"I’m more concerned with wins or losses over net punt," Slocum said. "One of the formulas for Chicago to be successful is having impact returns from Devin Hester. We’ve got to do a good job managing that part of the game."

Masthay has the 29th most punts in the league. Still, this will be a familiar scene for him -- facing the Bears in December at Lambeau Field. With home-field advantage on the line, he'll probably be a factor again. At Kansas City, three of Masthay's five punts landed inside the 20.

"I thought he was outstanding, His production was huge: 71-yard punt, downed, no return opportunity, kicked it over the returner’s head," Slocum said. "He kicked well under pressure on that first punt that they had the penalty on; outstanding punt, 51 yards, out of bounds.

"He’s doing the same thing. He’s a very diligent worker. I think his technique is such that it allows him to punt in bad weather. In terms of wind, he normally manages it pretty well."

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