Longwell, the Packers' all-time leading scorer and arguably the team's all-time best kicker, is having one of the worst seasons of his nine-year NFL career. Kicks that have been automatic in the past are not so this season. He has struggled adjusting to new holder B.J. Sander and now has another one in Ryan Flinn, a punter the Packers acquired on Dec. 22 when Sander was placed on injured reserve.
On Christmas Day, he gave the Bears a couple of gifts, missing two kicks thereby contributing to the miscues that did in the Packers, 24-17, at Lambeau Field.
Longwell will be an unrestricted free agent when the season is over and as much his down season could play a factor on how much he could command on the open market, there are other factors in play that will likely mean he will be elsewhere next year.
By his comments this year, with the familiarity of his past kicking units, and with the weather he has performed in, Longwell has become an extremely precise and technical kicker more than one that relies on feel. He was comfortable for years with snapper Rob Davis and holder Doug Pederson, but with Sander as the primary holder this season, the timing of the kicking unit was off on several occasions. Such inefficiency has affected Longwell and hurt the Packers in at least three games.
"I've always had great snappers and great holders, great protections, and it takes all 11 of us to make the kick, especially the three of us with the snap, the hold, and the kick, but for whatever reason we've had a tough year with that," said Longwell.
Against the Bears, Longwell missed kicks of 38 and 39 yards to the right, though he was not about to be critical of his new holder. In the past, he has been positive, but critical of his holders. This time he was just short in his response and did not appear to want to elaborate.
"They were kicks that we should have made," he said.
By all accounts, Flinn did a decent job on all three field goal attempts. The first one he put down, however, was spinning as Longwell kicked it, which may have had a factor in pushing the ball right. More importantly, it put some indecision in Longwell's mind in the second half as to what to expect with Flinn.
"I think that made his confidence in me drop a little bit," said Flinn.
Longwell's 39-yard miss came in the third quarter with the Packers down 17-7 before he connected on 26-yarder late in the game to pull the Packers within seven. Head coach Mike Sherman also passed on what would have been a 49-yard attempt on the Packers' first drive of the game, although the wind was no factor on a 34-degree night. Instead of trying that attempt, the Packers failed on fourth-and-two from the Bears' 32-yard line when a Favre pass intended for Donald Lee was tipped and fell incomplete.
For the season Longwell is a respectable 16 for 23, but even that 70% conversion rate is well below his career average of 82.4. More importantly, botched or missed kicks have hurt the Packers in close losses to the Buccaneers and Vikings previous to Sunday night's game.
Money will certainly be a factor in where Longwell ends up, but weather could be a bigger one. His good friend and ex-teammate Josh Bidwell departed via free agency to tropical Tampa Bay two years ago and made the Pro Bowl this season. With that friendship, an off-season home in Florida, and potential changes with the Buccaneers' kicking situation, Tampa Bay would appear to be a natural fit. Only an obscene, record-type contract offer by the Packers will likely force him to consider Green Bay. He would be crazy not to make the move to Tampa or any other warm-weather climate otherwise.
While Longwell's performance against the Bears gives the Packers' personnel staff something to think about negotiating a potential new deal this off-season, there is little doubt that Longwell still cannot be one of the best kickers in the game for years to come. It just does not figure to happen in Green Bay.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.