Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk makes a tackle during a 22-9 victory over Detroit. (Photo: Associated Press)
Hawk, Crosby ditch the doghouse
By DREW OLSON
GREEN BAY -- While thousands of happy fans carried their rally towels, programs and other paraphernalia through the post-game parking lot Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, A.J. Hawk was preparing leave with a couple of entirely different souvenirs from his 114th regular-season game as a member of the Green Bay Packers.
In the aftermath of a 22-9 victory over Detroit, the veteran linebacker stood in front of his locker sporting a well-defined welt on his forehead -- the byproduct of a helmet that didn’t seem to want to stay on his head during the game -- and a small-but-still-noticeable contusion on the bridge of his nose.
Standing barefoot in front of his locker, the 29-year-old from Ohio State answered repetitive questions about the absence of Detroit superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was scratched from the game due to a knee injury, and the Packers’ plan to stymie Lions running back Reggie Bush. After several minutes, Hawk’s blue eyes -- which still managed to stand out behind the afternoon’s battle scars -- were beginning to take on a boredom-induced glaze when a somewhat unexpected query snapped them to life.
“Are you happy for Mason Crosby today?” a reporter asked, referring to embattled kicker who matched a franchise record with five field goals in the game. “He’s had a tough time. Are you happy to see him have fun out there?”
“Of course,” Hawk said. “I feel awesome for Mason. He kicked a 52-yarder today like it was nothing. It looked like an extra point.
“We never lost any confidence in him. We felt great about him the whole time. He deserves all the credit he gets.”
At the same time, in another part of the facility, Packers coach Mike McCarthy was expressing similar feelings about Hawk. The kicking part didn’t enter the equation, but McCarthy praised Hawk for contributing seven tackles, two assists and a defended pass. The coach also noted that Hawk handled the defensive calls with his usual aplomb and kept the linebacking corps together when Clay Matthews (thumb), Brad Jones (hamstring) and Robert Francois (torn Achilles tendon) went down with injuries.
“A.J. Hawk is the same guy every day -- in total control, total command,” McCarthy said. “He’s productive as a player. (He’s a) very understated player and he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves for the job that he does here.
“He managed the whole situation and he’s kind of like a quarterback when the communication comes in from the sideline. I thought A.J. had a heck of a day.”
Although their on-field responsibilities could hardly be more different, Hawk and Crosby endured similarly rocky paths to their post-game “attaboys.” If the thousands of “owners” had a say in recent months, it’s a good bet that neither would still be with the team.
After signing a five-year, $14.75 million contract extension, Crosby posted the best season of his career (2011) and followed it then the worst (2012). While fans howled for his dismissal in the wake of a shaky outing in the Family Night scrimmage, the Packers auditioned potential replacements Giorgio Tavecchio and Zach Ramirez and negotiated a steep pay cut and incentive-laden contract before committing to Crosby for this season.
So far, Crosby has rewarded the decision. His field goals of 52, 26, 31, 42 and 45 yards on Sunday left him 9 for 9 this season. The slump is becoming a distant memory.
“Ever since Family Night, I felt like I’ve really come into my own,” he said. “(I’ve) come into the type of kicker that I want to be -- the guy that goes out there and makes kicks and guys rely on me to go out there and make it.
“I like going on the field knowing guys are confident that I’m going to put it through.”
Asked to describe the best part of his hot start, Crosby indicated that vindication is not part of his emotional equation.
“The best part is coming off the field, seeing the energy, the excitement and the confidence guys have in me and the confidence I have to go out there and take advantage of those chances I have,” he said. “This team, there’s going to be different ways we win games. For me, I had a lot of opportunities today. I took advantage of those. I’m sure there will be another game when I don’t have those chances and I’m just kicking extra points. That’s fine, too, as long as we win.”
Hawk, who knows what it’s like to take a pay cut -- two of them, actually -- and to be hounded by fans eager for his exit, espoused a similar “team first” approach by crediting the burly men in front of him for the defense’s early success.
“Every time there is a good play against the run, it’s always the D-line that makes it happen,” he said. “Everything revolves around those big guys up front. Every single play, I’m trying to congratulate them and tell them how good they do because they make our job so much easier.
“Look at ‘em. They’re big ol’ dudes that work hard and have a lot of fun. We have a good time out there. Everyone is very disciplined and does their job. You can’t really put a stat on that -- a guy holding his A-gap or his B-gap or whatever, but it’s huge for us.”
While fans have bemoaned Hawk’s lack of “splash plays” like sacks, interceptions and spleen-rattling tackles, coaches have long lauded him for doing things “that don’t show up in the box score.”
With Matthews sidelined after thumb surgery and Mike Neal and Nick Perry still learning the trade, Hawk may or may not end up getting more attention in the coming weeks.
His focus, however, won’t change.
“Everybody has to do their job,” he said. “When guys go down, other guys have to step up. We’ve proven over the years that we have the guys to do that.
“We practice with all our guys every week. We rotate everybody in from April and the start of OTAs. You just kind of get a feel for each guy on game day and see how they like to communicate. I’m feel very comfortable with anyone that’s inside the (linebackers) room going out there on the field with us."
Drew Olson is a senior editor for ESPNWisconsin.com and hosts "The D-List," which airs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 540 ESPN. Follow him on twitter @drewolsonmke