GREEN BAY – It’s hard to imagine any player doing a better job of rising to the occasion after signing a big contract than the way Mason Crosby delivered in 2011.
After some up-and-down moments during his first four NFL seasons, the Green Bay Packers kicker inked a five-year, $14.75 million extension last July as an unrestricted free agent, and it proved to be money extremely well spent. Not only did Crosby connect on 24 of his 28 regular-season field-goal attempts for a career-best 85.7 conversion percentage, but dating back to Week 13 of 2010, he strung together a franchise-record 23 consecutive field goals in regular-season play, breaking Chris Jacke’s record (17) for the longest streak in franchise history
In addition, Crosby tied his career-long field goal with a 56-yard field goal at Atlanta on Oct. 9, then surpassed it two weeks later when he nailed a 58-yarder at Minnesota on Oct. 23.
Did we mention he also made the second game-winning kick of his NFL career? On Dec. 4, Crosby connected from 31 yards out as time expired in regulation to give the Packers a 38-35 victory over the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants, marking his first game-winning kick since a 42-yarder against Philadelphia in his NFL debut on Sept. 9, 2007.
“I think he’s at the pinnacle of his career,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said as the team’s mandatory minicamp wrapped up in June. “He’s been here five years, and physically, he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in, mentally he’s probably in the best shape he’s ever been in, because he had the type of success he had last season. I just see him moving forward being a very positive factor.”
The Packers need him to be.
For much of Crosby’s career, including last year as the team cruised to a 15-1 regular-season record, he was seldom called upon to kick game-winning field goals in the waning moments of the fourth quarter or in overtime. In fact, between his game-winner in his NFL debut and the kick against the Giants, Crosby had had only three potential game-winning kicks – and had missed all three: A 52-yarder with 26 seconds left at Minnesota on Nov. 9, 2008; a blocked 38-yarder with 25 seconds left at Chicago on Dec. 22, 2008; and a 53-yarder with 7 seconds left in regulation in a tie game at Washington on Oct. 10, 2010.
“Obviously as a kicker that’s something I want to do, because it’s good for us to hit those game-winners,” Crosby said. “I don’t discount any kick. In the NFL, games come down to three points all the time. It doesn’t matter if those three points are in the first quarter or at the end of the game. Things are tight. Every kick matters.
“(But) when you kick that one at the end, you get a little special feeling from that. It’s different. But I wouldn’t mind kicking four field goals and winning by 20 points. That’s not a bad day either.”
Chances are, at some point in 2012, another important game will come down to Crosby’s right foot. And with his comfort level with his own game, his holder (punter Tim Masthay) and long-snapper (Brett Goode), there’s no reason to think Crosby won’t stay in that groove.
“Having that consistency with the same guys that I had the whole year (in 2010) and finished strong with, to be able to come back the (next) season with that really helps,” Crosby said. “That makes a huge difference. I have to trust them completely, and whenever you’re switching guys in and out of those positions, sometimes the timing (is an issue).”
Each day until players report to training camp on July 25 at St. Norbert College in De Pere, ESPNWisconsin.com will feature one of the 20 most important Packers players to the team’s fortunes in 2012. Agree? Disagree? Want to debate? Do it here in the comment section, or via Twitter.
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