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Bears’ special teams usually play significant role vs. Packers

Chicago Bears' DevHester gets past Green Bay Packers kicker MasCrosby kickoff return during first half an NFL football game Thursday

Chicago Bears' Devin Hester gets past Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby on a kickoff return during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

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A struggling defense without linebacker Lance Briggs and an offense without quarterback Jay Cutler seems like a death knell as the Bears head into their game Monday against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. But the Bears still have the ultimate X-factor in return man Devin Hester.

Compared to the predicaments faced by the offense and defense, Hester and the Bears’ return units head into the game with momentum. Hester’s 81-yard punt return Oct. 20 against the Washington Redskins helped keep the Bears in contention after Cutler suffered a groin injury in the second quarter.

‘‘Once you do it, you can build on it,’’ said special teams stalwart Craig Steltz. ‘‘You realize he’s one away from breaking the all-time record [for most return touchdowns]. You want to be a part of that. You want to be one of the guys that block for him, the ones that are on those videos that will be played on ESPN forever. How cool is that to be on those videos?

‘‘You just want to continue to build on that and build on teh confidence of us out there blocking. You know Devin — any time he touches the ball he can score. We want to make sure we give him the best opportunity possible.’’

Hester and the Bears’ special teams units generally are a luxury but usually a necessity against the Packers. In fact, special teams have figured prominently in each of the Bears’ four victories over the Packers since 2007:

◆ Hester’s 62-yard punt return touchdown sparked the Bears to a 20-17 victory at Soldier Field in 2010.

◆ Hester’s 24-yard punt return set up the tying touchdown and Alex Brown’s blocked field sent the game into overtime in a 20-17 victory in 2008 at Soldier Field. Danieal Manning had a 70-yard kickoff return and Jason Davis recovered a muffed punt in that game.

◆ Charles Tillman blocked a punt that Corey Graham recovered and returned for a key touchdown in a 35-7 victory at Soldier Field in 2007. It was the Bears’ second blocked punt of the game.

◆ Brendan Ayanbadejo forced a Charles Woodson fumble on a punt return and Brad Maynard recovered, leading to a tying field goal in a 27-20 victory in a prime-time game at Lambeau Field in 2007 — the Bears’ last victory in Green Bay.

The Bears’ special teams have been uneven in Joe DeCamillis’ first season. But with several rookies and first-year players adjusting to a new coach, the Bears are hopeful Hester’s return against the Redskins is a sign of progress that will carry over into the second half of the season.

‘‘I think things started to get more consistent toward the Washington game,’’ DeCamillis said. ‘‘We still have a lot of work left to do. But overall, both the coverage game and the return game was more consistent as we went.’’

The Bears still are riding the high from Hester’s 13th career punt return touchdown.

‘‘For a lot of guys, it was the first time they’ve ever been a part of one of Devin’s returns,’‘ Steltz said. ‘‘You see the excitement. You want more of that. You want to continue to give Devin the best blocking we can give him.’’

Linebacker Khaseem Greene, who made a key block to help spring Hester for the touchdown, is one of those first-timers.

‘‘It’s special,’’ Greene said. ‘‘We all felt like we scored that touchdown after Devin did what he did. It gives you momentum. It lets you realize how much of a different special teams can make.’’

That in itself can make a difference, Steltz said.

‘‘When you go out there with that mentality, I think that’s going to help us build on that return last week,’‘ Steltz said. Continue to rise and peak at the right time of the season.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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