The 2005 season was Longwell's ninth in the league. A career 82.4 percent on field goals through his first eight seasons, Longwell bombed with free agency on the horizon. He made just 20-of-27 field goals, including 6-of-10 from 30 to 39 yards and 3-of-5 from 40 to 49 yards. Moreover, six of his seven misses came with the Packers tied or behind.
So, on the first day of free agency, the Packers' all-time scoring leader was given a five-year deal worth $10 million to jump ship and move about four-and-a-half hours west to kick for the rival Vikings.
Now in the middle of his fifth season in Minnesota, Longwell has been superb. Longwell, who is in the final year of his contract, has made 86.9 percent of his field goals for the Vikings, including a stellar 92.3 percent (36-of-39) over the last season-and-a-half.
Contrast that to Green Bay, where kickers have hit just 76.5 percent of their field goals since Longwell departed.
In 2006, Dave Rayner made 74.3 percent of his field goals. In 2007, general manager Ted Thompson used the last of his three sixth-round picks on strong-legged Mason Crosby. Crosby's three-year mark entering this season was 78.0 percent. Rather than have a breakout season in the final year of his contract, Crosby has hit just 72.2 percent (13-of-18) this season.
"I'm very proud of what I accomplished. I'm very satisfied with my nine years there," Longwell said in a conference call on Wednesday. "I think Mason's done an outstanding job. I really think he's, percentage-wise, kind of a victim of his strong leg in that if you take away his 50-plus-yard misses, his percentage is not as bad as people think. He's actually done a pretty good job."
Longwell's assessment is accurate. On kicks from 39 yards and closer, Crosby's career success rate is 90.3 percent. Longwell is just about the same, 90.9 percent. From 40 to 49 yards, Crosby is just 67.6 percent. Longwell is 74.4 percent. Take away Crosby's 10-of-21 accuracy from 50-plus yards, as Longwell suggests, and Crosby's career percentage is 83.0 percent. Longwell is 85.4 percent once the 50-plus-yarders are eliminated.
So, while there's no disputing that Longwell has been the better kicker, he has benefitted from playing December home games in a dome with Crosby kicking in the sometimes-unfriendly confines of Lambeau Field.
"I think, as a kicker, I've always said there's no C grades," Longwell said. "It's either A or F. Sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield."
Where Longwell has a leg up on Crosby is in game-winning field goals. Longwell has made 16 in his career. Four of those came in 2004 with the Packers — including kicks in both games against the Vikings. Crosby has just one game-winner to his credit — and that came in his NFL debut, a 42-yarder that beat Philadelphia. In 2008, he missed from 52 yards at Minnesota and had a 38-yarder blocked at Chicago. This season, he hit the upright from 53 at Washington.
"Obviously, kicking a game winner is always good and a little boost to a career and to a season," Crosby said. "If that opportunity comes, I definitely will look forward to that. We've got seven games in the regular season. We've got to take this first one against Minnesota. They're always tight games so I'm going to be prepared for whatever. It'll be nice down the stretch to get one that meant a lot and we were able to win a game because of something I did. I think this team is going to need that. Offense is going to win some games, defense is going to win some games and special teams needs to win some games. If that's my role this last seven games, that's what I'm going to do."
Until Crosby can bang through a game-winner or consistently make better than 80 percent of his kicks, he rightfully will be put under the microscope.
That's life as a kicker in a league in which so many games are decided in the final couple of minutes.
"It's the nature of the beast," Longwell said. "There's no wiggle room in being a kicker. He kicks in a very tough place but I think he's done a really good job. He, much like I when I was there, you get some lucky breaks kicking in Lambeau and you get some bad breaks where you just guess wrong with the wind. At the end of the day, I think he's actually done a really good job and probably a better job than he gets credit for.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.