GREEN BAY – Mason Crosby can’t make many promises about what will happen in 2014, but the Green Bay Packers veteran kicker can guarantee this much: He will not try to duplicate his 2013 performance.
Wait, what? After what Crosby accomplished this season – making 33 of 37 field-goal attempts for a career-best 89.2 conversion rate – he doesn’t want to have another season just like it?
Well, no. Because that’s precisely what he tried to do in 2012 after a terrific 2011.
And things didn’t go so well.
“I think my biggest thing was, after that 2011 season, I was trying to recreate that season. And we can’t recreate things,” Crosby explained. “We talked this year occasionally about, ‘Does this feel like 2010?’ You can’t replay a year; you can’t just try to recreate those moments. Each year is different; everything is a little bit different. I think that’s what I did a good job of (this) year, just kind of starting fresh and saying, ‘OK, here are my goals, here’s what I’m going to set forth for the season.’ I was able to implement all those and really carry those forward.”
In 2011, Crosby made 24 of 28 field-goal attempts for a then-career high 85.7 conversion rate. But in 2012, he was, well, awful. Making only 21 of 33 attempts for a career-low 63.6 success rate, Crosby had the worst accuracy in the league. The only bright spot was that he made his final four regular-season kicks and both kicks he had in the Packers’ NFC Divisional Playoff loss at San Francisco.
“It really started at the end of last season,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. “He finished up strong and he really followed through with it and good production this year.”
Crosby used those six made kicks as part of an offseason where he focused on what went right, and not all the things that went wrong. He spent time talking with his father Jim and wife Molly, who made sure he stayed positive.
“I just tried to draw from all the good things that have happened in my career and that’s what I went after – positive motivations, things I could really carry forward,” Crosby explained. “All the negativity, missed kicks, things like that, I just erased them from my mind and moved forward. That was my biggest thing last offseason, I really evaluated the year and made sure that I had goals set in place that I really wanted to achieve.
“I talked to my wife a lot, my dad was a big influence, I had conversations with him. I just tried to reach out to people that I knew I could trust and have good conversations with.”
Another of those people was an unexpected one: Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, Crosby’s training-camp competition. Signed last spring, Tavecchio was Crosby’s first head-to-head competition since he won the job as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2007, beating out incumbent Dave Rayner. The friendship he formed with the ultra-positive, effervescent Tavecchio, coupled with the genuine competition the challenger created, also had an impact.
In fact, even after missing just four kicks all year – Crosby was also 2-for-2 in the Packers’ playoff loss to the 49ers on Jan. 5 – Crosby would be just fine with general manager Ted Thompson using one of the team’s roster spots on a kicker to battle him in camp again.
“You know, it was definitely a positive. There was nothing negative about it,” Crosby said. “I think it drove me to compete with myself even more, compete with what I felt like I needed to do and just go out and really battle every day.
“I can’t speculate, but I think it helped. I knew every day that I went to practice, I needed to be solid and competitive and intense and focused. Then I carried that into the game. Every time I went onto the field, I was battling. Having a guy there [this summer], it was a physical recognition of all that. But I drew from that [during the season] and made sure I saw what I could control within myself and almost withdrew into that even more.’
Asked if the team will bring in a kicker to compete with Crosby again this summer, Slocum replied, “This year, it was excellent. We’ll make that decision as we move forward.”
There is also reason to believe that if Crosby hits a rough patch, he’s better equipped to handle it. During the annual Family Night Scrimmage at the end of the first week of camp, Crosby went just 2-for-6 during a head-to-head kicking period against Tavecchio and 3-for-8 on the night. Tavecchio, meanwhile, made 5 of 6 during the competition period and was 6 of 7 on the night.
“I didn’t like what I saw on Family Night, but I saw him respond,” Slocum said. “We had a couple of long kicking sessions in training camp after that, and the way he responded, I felt really good at that time.”
The moment where Crosby appeared to hit his stride came at the end of camp, on Aug. 27. After the team brought in a third kicker, Zach Ramirez, to add another late layer of competition, Crosby nailed all 14 of his field-goal attempt that afternoon – half of them into a stiff wind – to answer the challenge. Over a two-day period, he made 23 of 25 kicks while Tavecchio was released and Ramirez faltered
“It was a lot of pressure there because of his performance on Family Night,” Slocum said. “The crowd, the media reporting his makes and misses – he responded extremely well in that situation. At that point, I felt really good about where he was and he carried that throughout the season.”
Said Crosby: “I hit a 58-yarder into maybe a 10- to 15-mile an hour wind, [and] that was probably the best kick I ever hit. I drew from those moments and those two days. I think I hit four from over 60. It was just kind of a whirlwind, crazy couple of days. But I’m thankful for them because I drew from that all season. As the grind of the season went on and stuff happened, I’d start my week and occasionally looked at that and thought, ‘That was a defining moment. That was the moment where I took over, where I took control of my job and that position.’
“That was the moment obviously where I took the job, and I’m thankful for those days.”
Not only that, but after accepting a pay cut in training camp, Crosby earned back every penny he gave up. The restructured deal cut his base salary from $2.4 million to $800,000, but he was able to earn back $800,000 of it in the form of roster bonuses for still being on the team in Week 5 and Week 10. The other $800,000 he earned back with his performance -- $200,000 for making 75 percent of his field-goal attempts, another $200,00 for making 80 percent and another $400,000 for making 85 percent. It was the some of the best money the Packers ever spent.
Next, he’ll turn his attention to his goals for 2014, which – with or without camp competition, with or without an incentivized contract – will be viewed as a new year, not a 2013 do-over.
“My goal (for this season) was 90 percent, and I wanted to be there. So in that sense it’s almost a positive to me,” said Crosby, who despite his success finished the season just 13th in the NFL in accuracy, with 11 kickers having made better than 90 percent of their kicks. “I accomplished a lot of goals and a lot of things I wanted to do. But I want to be over that 90 percent for a season. So that definitely will keep my focus sharp for the offseason and I’ll keep working toward that.”
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.