Mentally, kickers are like golfers. And if you’ve ever golfed, you know the psychologically damaging effects of sending a dead-center missile off the tee on a drive, only to follow it up by taking a three-pound beaver pelt out of the pristine fairway on your very next swing. As molten lava shoots from your eye sockets, something deep inside says “It’s all downhill from here, dude.” Is that what happened to Mason Crosby?
Six weeks ago, the Packers’ kicker sent a 50-yard attempt roughly three solar systems west of the goalposts in what could have been a game-tying score against the Indianapolis Colts. Fast-forward to the present and Crosby, one of the NFL’s most dead-to-rights kickers over the last five years, has amazingly shanked seven out of his last 13 attempts. Last Sunday in Detroit, another 50-yard attempt tailed right, but was nullified by a last-second Lions timeout. Responding to his shot at redemption, Crosby overcompensated and sent his next boot further left than a Rachel Maddow fanpage.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy stated postgame that Crosby was still the Packers’ kicker, regardless. But at what point do the Packers, or the ever diplomatic McCarthy, drop the semantics and look elsewhere? This isn’t so much about Crosby himself as it is about the complexities of dealing with a talented player who simply appears to have lose it.
The most recent kicker-related fatality involved former Ravens footman Billy Cundiff, who had a 32-yard chip-shot in the final seconds of last year’s AFC Championship game against New England. Well, that didn’t happen, and despite Cundiff’s reliability during the regular season (87% success inside 50 yards), he was hacked from the roster before this year’s training camp.
In 2006, Mike Vanderjagt signed a beefy contract with the Dallas Cowboys, entering the season as the most accurate NFL kicker to date. He went on to convert a pedestrian 73% of his attempts and seemed incapable of nailing anything outside of 45 yards. The Cowboys cut Vandy before the end of November and he never suited up again in the league.
But Crosby doesn’t fit into either of those categories. Out of those best recent examples, Cundiff committed a solitary, flukish error, and Vanderjagt had clearly hit his physical downslope. Try as I might, I couldn’t find much precedent for a healthy, dominant kicker falling to pieces mid-season in his prime. Crosby is only 28 and hasn’t lost any distance on his kicks. The connectors in his brain simply aren’t connecting how they’re supposed to be. (Medical diagnosis lifted from a known neurologist.)
This isn’t just a question for the Packers. The situation should resonate with any fan, just insert the names Gostkowski, or Tynes, or Janikowski, or Bryant. If Crosby is susceptible to this voodoo, then they all are. With the Packers on a five-game roll, and aiming beyond a mere playoff appearance, there’s little room for mistakes at this point of the season.
So let’s be interactive. What do you do with a kicker in this situation, especially one as prolific as Crosby? Self-help tapes? Yoga? Public floggings? I don’t have the answer, but the logician in me says that you set a timetable for the turnaround. For Packers management, even one more week of 50% failure means turning to the open market for someone else. John Kasay and Olindo Mare are both punting Nerf balls in their backyards, and meanwhile the Packers have no roster backup for Crosby, so the presence of a capable veteran may shoot some immediacy through his veins. All the same, even NFL kickers, as ridiculed as they often are, deserve a leash. The question is, what length?