GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay held off a training-camp challenger to keep his job, then went on to break the franchise record for net average.
Now, if the self-critical Masthay would just be a little less conscientious, a little less of a worry wart, his coaches believe he’d be even better.
Days after the team’s season-ending Jan. 16 NFC divisional playoff loss at Arizona, Masthay was still kicking himself over a poor first punt in that game, a 37-yard low kick that netted just 25 yards (thanks to Patrick Peterson’s 12-yard return) and gave the Cardinals a short field they converted into their first touchdown.
“That one hurts because I put our defense in a bad spot early in that game, and then from there on out, I was a little gun-shy and worried about giving up another return to Peterson because of the low hang time,” Masthay confessed. “As far as my punting goes, I feel much better going into this offseason than I did last year, [but] I’m obviously disappointed with the loss to Arizona and that first punt I hit in that game.”
Masthay wound up averaging 35.8 gross yards and 32.8 net yards on four punts in the Packers’ 26-20 overtime loss, far below his season averages of 43.9 gross and 40.2 net yards.
The performance belied what had been a very solid season for the sixth-year punter, who despite punting in the unfriendly Wisconsin weather, finished 25th in the NFL in gross average (43.9 yards per punt) and 14th in net average among qualifiers.
He certainly got help from the Packers’ punt coverage unit, which was the best in the NFL (allowing 4.2 yards per return), but he did his part too. In December alone, Masthay averaged 47.6 gross yards and 44.9 net yards per punt.
And that, according to special teams coordinator Ron Zook, has to be Masthay’s focus going forward: Making sure his intense feeling of responsibility to his teammates doesn’t become a liability.
“Tim is such a great guy. He always wants to please,” Zook said. “I told him, ‘Tim, there's no question that [you] can punt as well as anybody in this league.’ The thing that Tim's going to work on: 'Hey, you've just got to go do it. Quit worrying. … Just go do your job.’ Because he can do it, and you can't let those things bother you.”
Masthay’s mental toughness was challenged in 2014, when he fell apart after the midseason bye week. In the first eight games, he’d punted 28 times and averaged 47.0 gross yards and 41.1 net yards, both of which would have been career bests had he sustained that pace. During the second half of that season, he punted 21 times and averaged 40.1 gross and 31.5 net yards. The punt team also allowed a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by Buffalo’s Marcus Thigpen.
That led the team to bring in Cody Mandell to battle him in training camp, and while Masthay answered the challenge, he might face competition again as he enters the final year of the five-year, $6.005 million deal he signed in August 2012.
“If anything, he doesn't want to let his teammates down, he doesn't want to let the fans down, and he's just got to go do what he can do,” Zook said. “He's proven it. He can do it in this league and he can do it at a very, very high level.
“I think that's probably the thing that upset him the most [about the Arizona game]. He had perfect conditions and didn't have the kind of game that he wanted to have. But you've got to shake it off.”