The Green Bay Packers' 2013 season was a year defined by injuries, but also by unique and memorable plays. Here at Acme Packing Company, we will spend the next two weeks looking back at the ten best plays of the 2013 season as voted on by our writing staff.
Each person had their own criteria for deciding which plays were the best, but we took into account how memorable the play was, how big an impact it had within a particular game and for the season overall, how impressive a display of effort or athleticism the play had, and finally any hilarity or novelty factor.
Here is our pick for the 8th-best play by the Packers in 2013.
Micah Hyde's Punt Return Score
Opponent: Minnesota Vikings
It's like we just talked about this game...oh that's right, it was the same game wherein we found our 9th-best play of the year. As Jason noted yesterday, this game came after three main receivers (Cobb, Jones, and Finley) went down with injuries over a three-game winning streak. A win on Sunday Night would have moved the Packers to 5-2 and would have given them a half-game lead over the Lions (who had just beaten the Cowboys earlier in the day) and a one-game lead over the idle Bears. Meanwhile, the Vikings were trying to win their second game of the year and avoid falling to 1-6.
We know what happened earlier in the game already - Cordarrelle Patterson took the opening kick back 109 yards for a touchdown, but the Packers took a 17-10 lead about two minutes earlier on Jordy Nelson's second touchdown of the day, which was the play that made number 9 on our list. After receiving the ensuing kickoff, the Vikings picked up 14 yards on first down, but their offense quickly stalled as they faced a 4th and 4 from their own 36-yard line with 1:49 left on the clock. The Packers took a timeout to stop the clock and leave as much time as possible for Aaron Rodgers and company to pick up a score inside of two minutes. As it turned out, he wouldn't have to touch the ball at all.
This return almost doesn't happen at all, as Vikings punter Jeff Locke narrowly gets the kick away in front of the outstretched arm of the Packers' Sam Barrington. Once away, Hyde catches the punt at the seven-yard line between the right numbers and hash marks. At this point, one Vikings' gunner is approaching Hyde from either side, though both are still about 10 yards away from Hyde and have a blocker closely trailing.
Hyde hesitates for a split-second, freezing the gunner on the right, then splits the two, going straight up the middle of the field. Another would-be tackler overpursues slightly from Hyde's right, and Brandon Bostick is there to prevent him from turning back towards the return man. Once he hits the 18-yard line at the numbers, Hyde has three blockers in a triangle in front of him, each manned up on a Viking, while two other players in purple are sprinting down the middle of the field. Hyde cuts between two of the blockers and fires into high gear, leaving the two unblocked Vikings trailing well behind, as they were unable to change direction quickly enough.
Once Hyde explodes through that hole, he has two players to avoid: first, he has to juke out of the way of one of his own blockers at the 35, narrowly avoiding an embarrassing tackle by his teammate (it appeared to be Mike Neal), and then he had just the punter to beat. He beats Locke to the edge at the Packers' 46-yard line, and has nothing but green in front of him on his way to the end zone.
Though Nelson's touchdown gave the Packers a lead they wouldn't relinquish, this play was a back-breaker of sorts. It extended the lead to a pair of touchdowns and it gave the Packers a morale boost, knowing that they had matched Patterson's return score with one of their own. The Vikings would end up scoring a touchdown to pull back within seven points just before the half, but the Green Bay offense churned on in the second half to keep the Packers comfortably ahead of the Vikings on their way to a 44-31 win and a lead in the division. The next week, though, Aaron Rodgers' collarbone would be fractured on the opening drive of the game against the Bears, throwing the second half of the season into disarray.