1.) A GPS for Crosby
Admit it, this is the perfect stocking stuffer. Not only could it be used to help Mason Crosby locate such things as the space between the goal posts, but perhaps he could map a course to a new city in 2010. Really, this situation has become ridiculous and a new kicker later, if not sooner, is a real possibility. While Green Bay should certainly win a game in which it put up 36 points, Crosby's miss from 34 yards was a contributing factor. The once-reliable Crosby has missed four of his last 10 field goals (all wide right) from the makeable distances of 34, 42, 38 and 43 yards. That's unacceptable for an NFL kicker and may well cost the Packers again in the next two weeks, or the playoffs — if they get there. Mystifyingly, coach Mike McCarthy is unwavering in his support of his kicker.
"Mason Crosby's our kicker," McCarthy said at his Monday press conference. "He will be our kicker moving forward. I have zero interest in bringing in a kicker. I have all the confidence that Mason will fix the issue that he's having with missing the one kick a game. I know it doesn't do any good talking about it in here or publicly, but he's kicked the ball very well. The two opportunities to make key field goals, he did not. I think they're technical things that he's fully capable of correcting, and that will be our focus."
For the season, Crosby has slipped to 24-of-33, or 72.7 percent. While cutting Crosby and bringing in a kicker off the street is risky, it's no riskier than sticking with a player who clearly is in a slump. The Redskins cut Shaun Suisham a couple weeks ago when a chip-shot miss led to an overtime loss against the Saints. And the Cowboys — who like the Packers have playoff aspirations — cut the struggling Nick Folk on Monday after his league-leading 10th miss, only to sign Suisham. If Green Bay is squeamish or stubbornly committed or whatever, it wouldn't have to axe Crosby to bring in another leg. Several teams use a kickoff specialist, and Green Bay would just need to go one man lighter at a different position to accommodate. Unfortunately, it seems unwilling to do either.
2.) A blanket for Bush
It was a bad day for Jarrett Bush.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Bush was responsible for a good chunk of that yardage — giving up a 60-yard touchdown pass to rookie Mike Wallace on the first play of the game, a 54-yard completion to Hines Ward that set up a field goal and a 20-yarder to tight end Heath Miller on the game-winning drive. That's 134 yards on three plays. Maybe Big Ben should be sending Bush a Christmas present, too.
On the first touchdown, Bush had tight coverage down the right sideline before pulling off Wallace to find the ball. That was all the cushion Wallace needed as he hauled in the pass on his way to six points. That Bush is even in that spot is all an unfortunate trickle-down effect of the season-ending knee injury to cornerback Al Harris. With Harris out of the starting lineup, Tramon Williams vacated the nickel spot to take over for Harris and Bush moved in. It also means that cornerback Josh Bell, who gave up the 19-yard winning touchdown, is on the field in dime situations.
Maybe Bush can share that blanket, since he wasn't alone in his struggles. Cornerbacks aside, linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brandon Chillar had trouble corralling Miller, who lit Green Bay up for seven catches for 118 yards.
3.) A cape for Matthews
Who doesn't love superheroes for Christmas? I know I do and my sons have an Iron Man, Spider-Man, Aquaman and the Flash en route from the North Pole as you read this. None of those heroes have capes, mind you, but let's not get bogged down in minor details.
Clay Matthews III looked pretty super (hey, Thor has long blonde hair and a cape) collecting two more of his team-leading 10 sacks against the Steelers' villainous man-mountain Max Stark and center Justin Hartwig. The Packers' rookie action figure had what appeared to be a forced fumble and recovery of a Roethlisberger ball on a third sack until replay review said the quarterback's arm was coming forward for an incomplete pass. While sack No. 11 will have to wait until the Seattle game, Matthews has set the Packers rookie record for sacks.
With two games to go, the third-generation NFLer has forced his way into the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year with Washington's Brian Orakpo, who has one more sack, and Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, who leads the league with nine interceptions. But neither have had the direct impact on a probable playoff-bound team like Matthews.
4.) Gloves for Jones, Driver, Finley, Jackson and Johnson
James Jones makes a leaping grab for the go-ahead touchdown.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Donald Driver and James Jones had two drops each in the first half at Pittsburgh, and tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Brandon Jackson had one each. While Jones and Finley dropped third-down passes that led to punts, the usually sure-handed Driver had the most costly miscue when he drew a linebacker in coverage on a mismatch that could have resulted in big yardage. Fullback Quinn Johnson had the only drop of the second half.
Jones and Finley made outstanding plays catching two of Aaron Rodgers' three touchdowns, but the passes that got away from this group loomed equally large in a one-point loss. Drops are a part of the game, but it's hard to build momentum when opportunities are falling out of your hands.
5.) A spotlight for Rodgers
Even before the Minnesota Vikings' recent struggles, the shadow of Brett Favre had started to vanish. One week at a time, Aaron Rodgers is proving that he too is one of the top quarterbacks in the league. That said, let's give him a spotlight so he can start casting his own shadow.
While his counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger, stole the show with a record 503 yards — and the game courtesy of a 19-yard touchdown pass as time expired — Rodgers' day was something pretty special. He completed 26-of-48 passes for 383 yards with three touchdowns — including an 83-yarder to Greg Jennings — and ran for a 14-yard score. Fourteen games into the season, Rodgers ranks among the league's statistical leaders along with MVP candidates Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and yes, Favre.
If Rodgers has not earned your respect and admiration, irregardless of your opinion on Favre, he never will. But more so, he shouldn't worry about it. You, on the other hand, may be in line for a football-sized lump of coal.
"And he heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, 'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!'"
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.