Standing by their man
GREEN BAY, Wis. — No one at 1265 Lombardi Ave. is debating this much: Mason Crosby needs to stop missing field-goal attempts and start splitting the uprights again. Missing seven of your last 13 tries is not good enough, no matter what the distance, how long and lucrative your contract is, or what the game’s outcome turns out to be.
That said, the Green Bay Packers are making a statement in no uncertain terms: They are committed to Crosby as their kicker, despite the sixth-year veterans recent struggles. An NFL source said Monday evening that the team will not bring in any free-agent kickers for tryouts this week, and both head coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum were steadfast in their commitment to Crosby.
“I have confidence in the plan as we move forward,” McCarthy said in his regular Monday press conference, one day after Crosby missed 50- and 38-yard field goals in a 24-20 victory over the Detroit Lions, the Packers’ fifth straight victory. “Mason … just needs to trust the process through his preparation and stay focused on that and carry it through as far as his performance.
“Mason Crosby is my kicker. So, we can just stop it right here.”
Among the free-agent kickers available are Nate Kaeding, Ryan Longwell, Neil Rackers, John Kasay, Billy Cundiff and Dave Rayner. Kaeding, a two-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro kicker with San Diego, is the NFL’s all-time leader in field-goal accuracy (87 percent) in regular-season play, but suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last season, then suffered a groin injury in training camp this summer.
The Chargers released him off injured reserve on Oct. 30. A former third-round pick, Kaeding missed three field goals in a 17-14 home playoff loss to the New York Jets in January 2010, the Chargers’ last postseason appearance, and is just 8 of 15 (53.3 percent) for his career in eight playoff games.
“I think changing players is the easy thing to do,” Slocum said. “That’s the easiest thing to do, is to go get someone else. But it’s not always the best thing to do. We try to weigh every bit of information that we can and try to make the best decision top to bottom on what we do.”
For the season, Crosby has made 11 of 18 attempts for a 61.1 percent success rate, which ranks 31st in the NFL. Only Cundiff, who went 7 for 12 (58.3 percent) in five games for the Washington Redskins before being released, has a lower conversion rate among kickers with at least 10 attempts.
After signing a five-year, $14.75 million contract ($3 million signing bonus, $1.65 million base salary for 2012) before last season, Crosby delivered his best year as a pro, making 24 of 28 on field-goal attempts. That included a Packers franchise-record streak of 23 consecutive made field goals, a stretch that began midway through the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV championship season of 2010 and extended through Week 12 of last season.
“Mason really needs to trust his process. He has kicked thousands of kicks. He knows what to do. We need to go and have a good week of practice and he needs to start making field goals. And that’s it,” Slocum said. “I think it’s far more important for him to trust his body of work and trust the process of the execution as opposed to the result. If the process is correct, the kick will go through.”
Against the Lions Sunday, Crosby’s first miss came on a 50-yard attempt just before halftime – a kick he actually missed twice. First, Crosby missed wide right, but because Lions coach Jim Schwartz had called timeout, it didn’t count. Crosby then lined up again and promptly missed wide left.
Despite those misses, the Packers also sent out early in the fourth quarter to attempt a 58-yarder, but when tight end Tom Crabtree went in motion as if the Packers were running a fake, Crabtree was flagged for an illegal shift and the 5-yard penalty led to a punt instead, but Slocum said Monday that if the Crabtree’s motion had failed to get the Lions to jump offside, the Packers were prepared to have Crosby attempt the kick. Crosby kicked a career-best and franchise-record 58-yard field goal at Minnesota last season.
Crosby then missed again midway through the fourth quarter, sailing a 38-yarder wide left with 8:37 left to play and the Packers trailing 17-14.
“You have to practice what you preach,” McCarthy said when asked why he and general manager Ted Thompson are more likely to be patient with a struggling player. “You spend a lot of time together. Our guys work hard. In Mason’s case … we have history together and I believe in him. I don’t think you really need to go past that.
“He has a job to do. He’s not doing it. He recognizes it. I recognize it and he’ll work through it. I know he can do it.”
Crosby did bounce back to make the go-ahead extra point after Randall Cobb’s touchdown catch with 1:55 to play, then tacked on a 39-yard field goal with 24 seconds left to make sure the Lions couldn’t win the game with a field goal.
“Obviously I’ve got to make the field goals. That’s No. 1,” Crosby said after the game. (Players had Monday off and weren’t available to reporters.) “Ultimately, I had the opportunity there at the end and had to seal it off and I’m happy about that. (I) definitely have to fix the line and make sure I’m hitting good balls. It’s frustrating. I really have to dial it in. It’s small things I’ve been doing for a long time, so it’s little things that I really need to look into and make sure I fix.”
Crosby made his first five kicks of the season, drilling 48-, 35- and 54-yarders against Chicago on Sept. 13 and 29- and 40-yarders against Seattle on Sept. 24. But he missed twice in an Oct. 7 loss at Indianapolis, sending a 52-yarder wide right in the third quarter before missing a potential game-tying 51-yarder with 3 seconds left in what would be a 30-27 loss.
Crosby then missed a 58-yarder at St. Louis on Oct. 21 (while also making 47-, 23- and 48-yarders) before missing a 32-yard attempt off the right upright against Jacksonville on Oct. 28 at Lambeau Field. He then missed again, from 44 yards out, on Nov. 4 against Arizona.
Now, with the pressure mounting, Slocum wants Crosby to simplify things and stop thinking so much.
“You take everything into consideration. We have the confidence that he can make kicks. He hasn’t lately as he should, and he needs to for us to move forward and be as good as we can be as a football team,” Slocum said.
“There are so many parts to kicking a football. It starts with the set-up, it starts with taking the aiming point — the stance, the balance, all the technical aspects of the kick. If you think about a bunch of things prior to the kick, then you can clutter your mind. What he needs to do is just line up, kick the ball down the target line and I think it will fall into place and he’ll make the kick.
“I think (Crosby) is strong mentally. I think he’s at a challenge right now because he hasn’t made some kicks that he felt like he should have. This is a time that’s really going to show what he’s made out of. I fully expect him to respond in a positive way.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.