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Packers' approaches with Crosby, Ross lead to different places

Dec 09, 2013 -- 10:00pm
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Ex-Packers wide receiver Jeremy Ross scored two touchdowns on returns on Sunday for the Detroit Lions in snowy Philadelphia.

GREEN BAY – The conversation started with Mason Crosby, who remains the Green Bay Packers kicker. It ended with ex-Packers return man Jeremy Ross, who is a sure bet to be the NFC special teams player of the week after scoring a pair of touchdowns for the Detroit Lions Sunday in Philadelphia.

The Packers couldn’t have been more right, it appears, in sticking with Crosby through thick and thin. After making all three field goals he attempted at snowy Lambeau Field during Sunday’s 22-21 victory over Atlanta, Crosby is now 29 for 33 on the season after going 21 for 33 last year. He’s on track to earn back in incentives every penny he gave up when he took a pay cut this summer.

“Kicking the ball in the NFL is no easy chore, I think Mason’s had some high points, he’s had some low points, he’s at an excellent point right now,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said during Monday’s weekly coordinator media availability session. “He’s a very talented kicker. It’s a tough process.

“As I said last year, the easy thing to do is to change personnel. That’s not always the right thing to do. He’s having a good year, that’s a credit to him and his work ethic.”

The corollary with Ross, whom the Packers dumped the day after his Sept. 24 fumble on a kickoff at Cincinnati, apparently does not apply.

Ross scored on a 98-yard kickoff return and a 58-yard punt return Sunday against the Eagles, with his two touchdowns accounting for all of the Lions’ second-half scoring in a 34-20 loss. Ross also added a 46-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter and finished with 243 return yards, more than the Lions’ offense (228) managed in the snow.

Against the Packers on Thanksgiving, Ross had a 5-yard touchdown catch (his first NFL TD reception), a 24-yard rush on an end-around and a 35-yard punt return. He also had a 60-yard fourth-quarter punt return wiped out by a questionable holding penalty.

"It was about the only offense we had for three quarters," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.

Ross’ mistakes in Green Bay were well-documented. Although he had some big plays late in the 2012 season – a 58-yard punt return in the Packers’ Dec. 23 victory over Tennessee, and a 44-yard kickoff return and a 32-yard punt return against Minnesota in the regular-season finale on Dec. 30 – his costly fumble against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoffs led to a momentum-shifting touchdown in the Packers’ 45-31 loss.

He had an up-and-down training camp but the Packers kept him at the final cutdown. But his mistake in Cincinnati proved to be the final straw.

With the Packers already down 7-0, Ross misjudged the ensuing kickoff and muffed it, with the Bengals recovering at the Green Bay 2-yard line. The next play, they scored again to make it 14-0.

When the club cut him the next day, coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers “haven’t given up on Jeremy,” adding that he’d “have no problem working with him again.”

After managing just a 12.5-yard average on six kickoff returns and a 10-yard average on two punt returns, Ross, who signed with the Lions’ practice squad after his release and then was promoted to the 53-man roster, is now averaging 19.9 yards per punt return with the Lions (on eight returns) and 33.5 yards per kickoff return (on 10 returns).

The Packers as a team rank dead last in kickoff return average (18.8 yards) but sixth in punt return average (11.4, including Micah Hyde’s 93-yard punt return for a touchdown).

Asked Monday why the team’s approach with Crosby wasn’t applicable to Ross, Slocum replied, “Well, Mason played one position for us. The other young man played more positions. Had some problems before he left us. They were critical. In [the span of] four consecutive games [he] had two major problems and we made a decision to move. He did a nice job against us; he did a nice job yesterday in the snow.”

It’s certainly plausible that Ross needed the fresh start that Detroit gave him after the mistakes he made in Green Bay. He may never have regained his confidence with the Packers. It’s impossible to know for certain.

But he’s clearly making a difference now for a different team.

“I think mindset is a big part of performance. I think a person with a clear head and confident ability to trust their training and execute is a key to success,” Slocum said. “Guys can do it and stay in the same spot, sometimes guys need a new front door.”

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