Green Bay fans were subjected to a nail-biter game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Although the Pack prevailed in the end, the game was a much closer one than it should have been.
The fault for that can be laid squarely on Mason Crosby’s shoulders.
Over the previous five weeks, Crosby has fallen into a slump from which he shows no signs of emerging. Things started getting better in Week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts, when Crosby missed two field goals that ended up being the difference between a win and a loss for the day (the Packers lost 27-30).
Since then, Crosby has not made 100 percent of his field-goal attempts in any game where he has been trotted onto the field.
Although Crosby’s misses did not turn out to be as crucial in the recent string of games, his lack of accuracy has reached a critical point where the team can no longer trust him to do his job when they do need him.
Against the Detroit Lions this week, Mike McCarthy chose to go for it on 4th-and-4 instead of relying on Crosby to attempt a field goal. Later, McCarthy tried a fake field goal from about 10 yards further back.
Neither of those decisions was ultimately a good one (Aaron Rodgers did not complete a first-down pass in the first instance and the Packers earned a false-start penalty and knocked themselves out of field-goal range in the second), but in each case, the Packers demonstrated their reluctance to put their faith in Mason Crosby during a tight game.
Crosby, in turn, justified those decisions by missing a field goal from 50 yards twice (thanks to a last-second timeout), and one from 38 yards out. When he finally managed to hit one from 39 yards, there were mere seconds left in a game that the Packers were already winning.
The Packers stood by Mason Crosby when he experienced a similar slump during the 2009 season, and then signed him to a five-year, $14.75 million deal of which $3 million was guaranteed at the conclusion of the 2010 season. That contract made Crosby one of the highest-paid kickers in the league, a status that was not commensurate with his achievements to that point.
In response to his new contract, Crosby put together a somewhat better campaign in 2011, hitting 85.7 percent of his field goals—a career high. This season, it appears that Crosby has come back to earth, reverting back to his old unremarkable form.
This situation is unsustainable for a team whose playoff hopes are starting to look brighter by the week. There cannot be a gap between the 45-yard line and the 30-yard line where the only real options available are between a pooch punt and going for it.
And yet, that is exactly the scenario that Crosby has forced the team into. He cannot be trusted to connect on a field goal past the 35-yard line, which puts the Packers in a bind whenever a drive stalls too close to the end zone to reasonably punt and too far for Crosby to be reliable.
With no backup kicker waiting in the wings and the season well underway, the Packers need to explore their alternate options with an eye towards getting Crosby off their roster.
Make no mistake; there are some options still available. Longtime Packer and Viking Ryan Longwell, whose accuracy is far more consistent than Crosby's, is sitting at home right now.
The Packers have argued that one of Crosby’s assets is his ability to make kicks in the unpredictable microclimate that defines Lambeau Field’s end zones, but Longwell has had ample practice in doing that too.
Certainly Longwell has had his off years where his field-goal accuracy was not the best, but during his better years he has been among the best in the league. It could not hurt for the Packers to bring him in and see if he still has enough juice left to help them finish out the season
No kicker in the NFL is perfect. There will always be misses from even the most reliable kickers in the league. Crosby’s recent struggles to put the ball through the uprights, however, are inexcusable for a man whose main purpose is to put points on the board.
The Packers cannot afford to wait until Crosby’s unreliable leg costs them another game. They must act now to bring in a kicker who can get the job done.