GREEN BAY – To grasp just how epically disappointing Mason Crosby’s 2012 season was, one only needs to rewind to what special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum was saying about him one year ago.
The Green Bay Packers kicker was coming off the best season of his five-year NFL career, justifying the five-year, $14.75 million extension he’d signed in July 2011 by making 24 of his 28 regular-season field-goal attempts for a career-best 85.7 conversion percentage. He’d also strung together a franchise-record streak of 23 consecutive made field goals in regular-season play, breaking Chris Jacke’s record (17); tied his career-long field goal with a 56-yard field goal at Atlanta on Oct. 9, 2011; surpassed that kick with a 58-yarder at Minnesota on Oct. 23 to set the team record; and made the second game-winning kick of his NFL career as time expired in a 38-35 victory over the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants. It was his first game-winning kick since a 42-yarder against Philadelphia in his NFL debut on Sept. 9, 2007.
“I think he’s at the pinnacle of his career,” Slocum said in June 2012. “He’s been here five years, and physically, he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in, mentally he’s probably in the best shape he’s ever been in, because he had the type of success he had last season. I just see him moving forward being a very positive factor.”
Instead, Crosby wound up having the worst year of his career in 2012, finishing the regular season ranked last in the NFL in field-goal accuracy, making only 63.6 percent of his kicks (21 of 33) – and that was with him making his last four field-goal attempts of the regular season. While the Packers opted not to bring in competition for him during the season, when he missed at least one kick in nine consecutive games in which he had an attempt, the team signed ex-University of California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio during the offseason to compete with Crosby when training camp kicks off on July 26.
“I can’t focus on what anyone else is doing. Whether a guy is here or not here I’m always competing against someone else out there, so for me, it’s really focusing on what I can do and how I can be consistent and perform,” Crosby said as organized team activity practices wrapped up last month. “I think the competition is good, seeing someone kick. If he’s making kicks and I’m continuing to hit mine through, then we kind of just go back and forth. It’s good to be pushed and I’m happy with that. … I think the competition breeds that and I’m thankful for that.”
Not that Crosby really has a choice. Despite his struggles, the Packers’ offense only fell to fifth in the NFL in scoring, averaging 27.1 points per game. Although that was an appreciable dip from their NFL-leading 35.0 points per game in 2011, only New England (34.8), Denver (30.1), New Orleans (28.8) and Washington (27.3) put up more points than they did. Had Crosby simply made half of the kicks he missed, those 18 points would have moved the Packers ahead of Washington into fourth place with 28.2 points per game.
The good news was that Crosby ended the year having made six field goals in a row. He made 26- and 48-yarders in the Packers’ Dec. 23 victory over Tennessee, then made 51- and 40-yarders at Minnesota in the Dec. 30 regular-season finale. He also made both of his playoff kicks: A 20-yarder against the Vikings in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs and a 31-yarder at San Francisco in the Packers’ season-ending loss to the 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
“Practice, in the weight room, everything I’m doing, I’m focusing on being sharp, being in that moment and taking advantage of that opportunity. I think it’s going to carry me a long way,” Crosby said. “Through (struggles) like that there’s been successes and failures and careers. And mine, especially this last season you can look at that. For me, I build off of that. I’m learning from it. For me, I can look at the things that I didn’t like that I did during the season and I can eliminate those and really focus on the good things, the positives. And it’s easy for me to see those positives through all of it and build off of that.”
It will also be interesting to see how Crosby responds in training camp to having Tavecchio is on the roster. Barring a last-minute roster move before camp, Tavecchio will be giving Crosby his first head-to-head training-camp competition since Crosby won the job from incumbent Dave Rayner in 2007 as a rookie sixth-round pick from Colorado.
“Obviously the organization sticking behind me kept building that confidence,” Crosby said. “For me, I never lost it. I never lost it in my head. I just kept going out every day trying to do the things I know best and work on those details.
“I finished the season how I wanted to. I’m carrying that over into the offseason and making sure that I eliminate any of those things that might have popped up during the season last year.”
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