"Ever since Family Night (on Aug. 3), I felt like I've just come into my own, come into the type of kicker I want to be," Crosby said. "A guy that just goes out there and makes kicks and guys rely on me to go out there and make it in games like this, where it's kind of a battle and not a lot of touchdowns are being scored and I need to capitalize on it.
"I like going on the field knowing guys are confident I'm going to put it through and it comes from a good week of work. I'm putting the work in during the week, showing that the ball is going to go through the uprights, so whenever I'm called to do it, they have a lot of confidence in me."
Packers fans finally may be feeling that way again, as well. They could not have been more down on Crosby after a 2012 season in which he was just 21-for-33 and Green Bay was in the league cellar with a 63.6 percentage. Through his struggles, coach Mike McCarthy stuck with him, and Crosby finished last season 6-for-6, including the playoffs. While Crosby's slump never cost his team a win, the impending and inevitable training camp competition was one of the most anticipated and talked about story lines of the summer.
That competition came in the form of ex-Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, who was brought to town and pushed Crosby throughout the first three weeks of camp. When Family Night arrived, Crosby affirmed fans' fears by going 3-for-8, including 2-for-6 in a kicking battle that ended the evening. While he and Tavecchio kicked to a nearly dead heat throughout August, the Packers went with Crosby's battle-tested body of work that included hitting on 85.7 percent of his kicks in 2011 and 76.8 percent over a six-year career.
But even after cutting Tavecchio, the Packers left the door open to re-signing him, and they brought in undrafted Portland State kicker Zach Ramirez, only to let him go just as quickly. Even after Crosby earned his way onto the final roster, the Packers brought in Norwegian YouTube sensation Harvard "Kickalicious" Rugland for a tryout after the Lions cut him. His Green Bay vacation lasted all of a day.
Crosby, meanwhile, just kept kicking. Through the criticism, through the controversy, through the contract restructuring that reduced his 2013 base salary and added incentives. Kickers by nature are steady. Never too high or too low. Crosby's demeanor had always been fairly indistinguishable, whether he split the posts from 50 yards or missed from 25. But following Sunday's career performance, it was hard to miss the smile on his face and enthusiasm in his voice when responding to a much kinder set of questions at his locker, beginning with the 52-yarder he hit in the second quarter to put Green Bay up 6-0.
"It felt great," Crosby said. "I didn't hit it as high as I wanted to. But it was right down the middle and that was my thing. Just hit a good strike on the ball. Down on that (south) end, even though there wasn't much wind, as I'm learning the new Lambeau with that new side, sometimes I just have to blast one down the middle and take all the side-to-side wind out of it and just hit it."
While that was his longest kick of the day, he also had a 26-yarder to open the scoring, and three second-half field goals of 31, 42, and 45 yards. All were arrow straight through the uprights. With Detroit's defense playing seven men back for most of the afternoon, Crosby's ability to cash in on points when drives stalled was crucial.
"I'm just really happy I was able to capitalize and take advantage of the opportunities that I had to help this team win," Crosby said. "We needed to get that win here and did everything we needed to do that. I never had five, so it feels really great. I'm glad I had a couple of long ones there and then a couple at the end to kind of seal it off. It felt really awesome with the operation — snap, hold, protection — everything was perfect. It goes all the way to the field, the crew, it was just a perfect day for football and I'm glad we got the win."
On a day when quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for just one touchdown, he was as happy for Crosby's performance as anyone.
"I'm real proud of Mason," Rodgers said. "It's great to see him kicking the way we know he's capable of kicking. He's got one of the biggest legs in the league and, when he's rolling, he's one of the best, if not the best. I'm proud of him. He went through some stuff in training camp, took a lot of flak last year, obviously, but we're glad he's our guy."
McCarthy never lost confidence. Neither did the other players in the locker room. But Crosby's confidence in himself may have been the biggest factor in the biggest performance of his career.
"It's great whenever you walk off the field, you look at your teammates and know that you did your job," he said. "Then you can go and see your family and friends and know that they've been behind you through this whole thing.
"It's just the beginning. It's early in the season, so I've got to just enjoy this moment for today and then get back to work tomorrow. I really, really, really am thankful for today and the opportunity to go out there and kick five field goals. For us, the win is the most important thing. And I'm going to look at the film, see if I have anything to evaluate and then move on, just as if it didn't happen… but I will feel this and build from it and make sure that I carry it on with me because this is a day I'll remember for a while."
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.