The Green Bay Packers are sticking with Mason Crosby, but their decision has as much to do with their personnel philosophy as it does about their faith in their struggling kicker.
After missing a pair of field goals in the Packers’ 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears Sunday, Crosby is now 17 of 29 (a league-worst 58.6 percent) on field-goal attempts this season and has missed at least one kick in the past eight games. Nevertheless, head coach Mike McCarthy remained steadfast in his support of Crosby, saying no change is in the offing.
“Mason Crosby is an accountable man. He needs to perform better,” McCarthy said Monday. “I’m disappointed in the way he performed yesterday. There’s more that goes into it as far as when you evaluate players and everything around each player at their position. So, at the end of the day, Mason will be our kicker and that’s my focus.”
While Crosby was having another rough outing, two other players the team chose to keep around – despite uneven production or injury issues – were delivering for them: Sixth-year wide receiver James Jones, and third-year defensive end Mike Neal.
“I think it’s clear what we think about the players that we draft,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said Monday. “We want to develop them and do well. Mason’s had some bumps and he needs to get it right.”
Crosby, a 2007 sixth-round draft pick from Colorado, signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract extension that included a $3 million signing bonus in July, 2011, and responded with the best season of his career last year, making 24 of 28 field-goal attempts.
He has a base salary of $1.65 million this season and has three more years left on his deal, at $2.4 million in 2013, $2.65 million in 2014 and $2.8 million in 2015.
Asked after Sunday’s game if he was worried about the Packers cutting him, Crosby replied, “That’s not even on my mind. … I’m not even going to think about that.”
While Crosby has missed at least one kick in each of the Packers’ last eight games, the team is 7-1 during that stretch.
“Obviously it’s frustrating whenever you're not making kicks," Crosby said. "But the biggest thing is that I'm not making the kicks to put this team up by two touchdowns. That was my thing. That was six points there and if we're up two touchdowns, it's a different end. But the result is the same. We won the game, just a little different ending.”
The Packers can only hope that Crosby rewards their faith the way Jones and Neal have.
Jones struggled with inconsistent play and dropped passes earlier in his career, but was re-signed to an economical three-year deal before the 2011 season. After catching three touchdown passes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers Sunday, Jones leads the NFL in TD receptions with 12. He enters this Sunday’s game against Tennessee with a career-best 51 receptions for 622 yards.
Neal, who suffered through two star-crossed, injury-plagued season and then opened the year serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, registered 1.5 sacks on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and was praised by outside linebacker Clay Matthews for helping him get his two sacks on stunts. Neal has 3.5 sacks on the season, second only to Matthews’ 11.0 on the team.
“It’s the core of the philosophy of how we operate here. The core philosophy is draft and develop, and the development is about growth,” McCarthy said Monday. “Now, let’s not act like there’s not times when things are not moving in the right direction. Any time you hit a situation that’s not favorable, you don’t have production or the result is not what you intended it to be, you have to choose which direction you’re going to go. The direction right now is we’re sticking with Mason Crosby as our kicker.”
However, it does appear that Crosby’s struggles are affecting McCarthy’s decision-making. The Packers twice went for it on fourth down against the Bears, converting a fourth-and-2 from the Chicago 37-yard line in the second quarter instead of trying a 55-yard field goal and converting a fourth-and-6 from the Chicago 26 instead of attempting a 44-yard kick.
The first conversion didn’t lead to points because Crosby missed a 43-yard attempt wide right on a fourth-and-6 from the Chicago 25, while the second conversion led to Jones’ third touchdown, on the opening drive of the second half.
Crosby’s other miss came when McCarthy decided to kick a 42-yarder on fourth-and-1 from the Chicago 24, and Crosby clanged it off the left upright.
“It wasn’t ideal day to kick but I thought he should have made both the field goals that we attempted,” Slocum said. “The thing I’m disappointed in is not taking his preparation into the game. And he’s got to do that. He had a great week of practice last week and was good in pre-game warm-up. He needs to make those field goals and trust what he’s done during the week in preparation and move forward.
“I think he is really trying to get the ball through the uprights and I look forward to him doing it. And that’s where we are.”
Asked if sticking with Crosby despite his misses might create an issue with other players, to whom accountability is constantly emphasized by the coaching staff, McCarthy acknowledged that it was a possibility.
“That’s a great question for the locker room,” McCarthy replied. “I’m not going to sit here and act like everyone’s not watching how the situation’s being handled, there’s no question about it. Evaluation of everybody is an ongoing process as you prepare to win each game.
“Definitely, no one’s happy with the number of kicks that Mason has missed. As we stand here today on who’s going to line up and kick, it’s Mason Crosby. I don’t know how to continue to answer this question. He needs to be accountable for his performance, but as far as what happens between the evaluation of the game or the past games and how he’s performed and how we move forward into the next game, there’s a number of different factors. Mason Crosby is our kicker.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.