With two swings of his right leg Sunday, Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby hit rock bottom.
Given the recent circumstances, Crosby's mistakes to end the first half and start the second of Green Bay's 23-14 win might represent the lowest point for any Packers kicker since Ryan Longwell missed a chip shot kick in 1997 at Philadelphia that would have won the game.
But those calling for the Packers to make a move at kicker will likely be left waiting the remainder of this season. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy gave Crosby another vote of confidence Monday.
"I'm not changing, I'm not wavering on Mason," McCarthy said. "He needs to make kicks. He needs to make the long kick. I expect him to make that kick before the half. But once again, we're just going to keep swinging. We need Mason to make big kicks down the stretch. He'll be a big part of our success."
Despite acknowledging both of Crosby's mistakes in the context of the game Sunday, McCarthy certainly did not sound like a head coach who is prepared to put his name on a change of kicker over the final four games of the 2012 season. For better or worse, McCarthy is hitching his horse to Crosby.
Luckily for the Packers, the kicking mistakes Sunday did not effect the game's outcome.
Crosby, who came into Sunday missing five of his last nine kicks, pushed a 53-yard attempt before halftime that might have still went wide had the goal posts been moved 10 yards to the right. McCarthy admitted Monday that the missed kick was a deflating moment for his football team as they headed into the half time locker room down four points instead of just one.
Then, to begin the second half, Crosby shanked his kickoff out of bounds and gave Minnesota field position at the 40-yard line. A play later, the Vikings were knocking on the end zone's door after Adrian Peterson rumbled 48-yards.
Crosby did redeem himself, finding the middle of the uprights on two important second-half kicks that helped the Packers swell their lead to two scores.
Optimists will say the two second-half makes could snap Crosby out of his funk. Pessimists can point to a shaky first kick, the two middle mistakes and a hesitation from McCarthy to send Crosby out on what should have been an instant decision.
Crosby clanked a 30-yard kick in the first quarter off the left upright and through. Later, Crosby's pushed kick before the half extended his streak of games with a miss to six and seven of the last eight overall.
Midway through the third quarter and with the Packers still trailing 14-10, Aaron Rodgers threw incomplete on 3rd-and-7 from the Vikings' 30-yard line. Instead of immediately calling on Crosby for a 47-yard kick on 4th-and-7, McCarthy dialed in a call to Rodgers to go for it. The Vikings, confused with their play call and possessing 12 men on the field, called timeout. After the break, McCarthy sent out of Crosby, who sent his kick through from 47 yards out.
McCarthy could have faced some heat in the kicking department had he actually went for the first down and left Crosby on the sidelines. If you can't trust your kicker to make a 47-yard kick in the second half of a 14-10 game at home, you probably need to find yourself a new guy.
Instead, Crosby nailed the kick to pull the Packers to 14-13. His 31-yarder late in the fourth quarter all but sealed the Packers win by putting Green Bay up two scores. Both kicks elicited a roar from the Lambeau Field crowd.
Crosby is now 15 of 24 kicking this season, good for a percentage of 62.5. The nine misses are tied with David Akers for the NFL lead, and only Billy Cundiff—cut by the Redskins in early October—has a worse overall kicking accuracy (7 of 12, 58.3).
Crosby has bounced back from funks before. The most notable span came in 2010, when he suffered through a 9 for 14 phase midway through that season. He then made 13 of his last 15 kicks, including the playoffs. This funk is longer lasting and deeper than the one he dealt with last years ago, however.
Maybe with some renewed confidence from the two second-half kicks Sunday, Crosby can put together another slump-busting finish to this season. McCarthy is certainly hoping so.
Chances are high that a game over the next two months—either in the four to finish the regular season or sometime in the postseason—will come down to a kick.
Predicting the outcome of such a scenario is a fool's errand, but at least we know for absolute certain that Crosby will be the one taking such a kick. For better or worse, Crosby has the unwavering support of his head coach.
Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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