Gamble on Crosby Goes Beyond This Season

If the Packers go into the playoffs with Mason Crosby and he misses a key kick, the fallout could go far beyond a missed opportunity to win a second Super Bowl in three years. Instead, it could test the very foundation of the team.

Outside of which way a coach turns amid a quarterback controversy, it's probably fair to say that no single lineup decision will sink a coach's credibility in the locker room or future with the team.

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy's decision on Mason Crosby, however, could be the defining moment of his post-Super Bowl tenure.

"I'm not going to sit here and act like everyone's not watching how the situation's being handled," McCarthy said of his players on Monday.

Get it right, and perhaps McCarthy hoists a second Lombardi Trophy.

Get it wrong, and every difficult and important decision he makes will be questioned — quietly or otherwise — by his players.

Make no mistake about it. This is as big as it gets. And McCarthy is rolling the dice that his kicker, who never has been exceptional other than last season, can figure out in two weeks what he hasn't been able to figure out in two months.

Let's be clear: Crosby by any definition wasn't having a good year before Sunday's debacle at Chicago. Still, he had made his last seven field-goal attemps from inside of 50 yards and was 16-of-19 from that distance for the season. The Packers could live with that and, with the playoffs coming, McCarthy could alter his strategy if Crosby hadn't gotten things solved after missing seven in a row from 50-plus.

Sunday's performance, however, was a major step back. If his 43-yard attempt had gone any further to the right, it would have landed in Lake Michigan. Naturally, his 42-yarder hit the left upright. The misses sent him to 17-of-29 for the season. At 58.6 percent, not only does Crosby have the worst rate in the league but it's not even close. Among kickers earning a pay check, David Akers (25-of-35) is second from the bottom at 71.4 percent.

And yet, McCarthy voiced unequivocal support for Crosby after the game and again on Monday. Why?

"First of all, Mason Crosby is an accountable man," McCarthy said. "He needs to perform better. I don't want to be totally redundant on the subject. I'm disappointed in the way he performed yesterday. There's more that goes into it as far as when you evaluate players and everything around each player at their position. So, at the end of the day, Mason will be our kicker and that's my focus as we go to Tennessee."

There's no denying Crosby's talent.

At practice, Crosby puts the ball at the pylon in the front of the end zone and routinely can split the uprights at that ridiculous angle. He's made a couple of 56-yard field goals in his career. He converted 23 consecutive field goals spanning the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

There's no question he can make field goals. The question is, can he? At a position in which what's going on between the ears so often dictates whether the ball goes between the uprights, can Crosby cast aside all of those bad vibes and make a big field goal at a big moment of a big game?

"I think he's put together some good preparation," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "The thing I'm disappointed in is not taking his preparation into the game. And he's got to do that. He had a great week of practice last week and was good in pregame warmup. He needs to make those field goals and trust what he's done during the week in preparation and move forward."

After a 5-for-5 start, Crosby is 12-of-24. To state the painfully obvious, that is not good enough for a Super Bowl contender, especially for a team that's solid in all three phases but hardly dominant in any of them. At some point in the postseason, the Packers probably are going to need a field goal, whether it's to win the game, force overtime or to turn a one-score game into a two-score game in the final minutes.

If Crosby misses that kick and the Packers pay the ultimate price because of it, not only will the season be over. So, too, might be a large chunk of the belief and trust McCarthy has earned in the locker room.

In his seventh season, McCarthy's record in major decisions is practically beyond reproach, with quarterback and defensive coordinator topping the list. That's why, for the fourth consecutive year, McCarthy is guiding a true Super Bowl contender. These opportunities, however, aren't birthrights, no matter the intelligence and instincts of the men in charge of making the tough decisions. Gambling on Crosby is more than just a gamble on this season. It's a gamble on the foundation McCarthy has built.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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