CHICAGO — Mason Crosby stood at his locker and told everyone who was willing to believe him that he was a happy man on Sunday.
Happy that his Green Bay Packers won the NFC North Division title. Happy that the goal of reaching the playoffs had been reached. Happy that he was about to celebrate with his teammates on the ride home.
But Crosby’s face told a different story, carrying the look of a man who was about to have his fingernails pulled off.
After two more missed kicks in Green Bay’s 21-13 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field, the question on everyone’s mind is whether the Packers would be willing to make a kicking change just three weeks before the playoffs commence.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy issued his second vote of confidence in four weeks for his beleaguered kicker.
“We’re not changing our kicker, so you can write that down right now,’’ McCarthy said. “He’s our guy. He needs to make those kicks. He knows that. We’re at that time of year.’’
Crosby insisted job security was not part of his thought process.
“I’m not thinking that way,’’ said Crosby, who is just 17-for-29 on the season and has missed a field goal in eight straight games.
“That’s not even on my mind. We won the North Division as a team and this team has been fighting together and I’m not even going to think about that.’’
But Crosby’s continued troubles have left the Packers with a potential major hole in their arsenal.
“Mason needs to make those kicks,’’ McCarthy said. “We’re at that time of year — we left points on the field today and the two missed field goals are definitely makeable field goals. Obviously, it factors into some of the decisions you make after that. It’s time for him to step up.’’
Crosby’s first miss came from 43 yards with the Packers trailing 7-0 in the first quarter. It sailed right. Wide right.
“Conditions were fairly decent out there,’’ said Crosby of his first miss. “I had to figure out the footing early in warm-ups but I was hitting the ball well with operation, but I just hit it off my toe and hit it a little right.’’
If there was any doubt where McCarthy’s confidence stood with his kicker, it came on the Packers’ first drive of the second half. Facing a fourth-and-6 from the Bears’ 26, McCarthy opted to go for it instead of trotting out Crosby for a 43-yard field goal on the same end of the field he missed earlier.
It proved to be a worthy gamble — the Packers converted and eventually went in for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead. But the message it sent was a psychological blow to the kicker.
“Well, it worked,’’ Crosby said of the fourth-down call. “It was a situation where we wanted to get some momentum right after half. We came in and talked about it. We wanted a touchdown right after half. Get us up two touchdowns and that’s what we did. That’s just part of the game. That’s a call Coach McCarthy’s going to make on occasion, and it worked out.’’
Crosby’s chance at redemption failed when he was sent out for a 42-yard attempt to give the Packers a two-touchdown lead with 10:10 to play. This time, his kick hit the left upright and bounced away.
Crosby’s troubles seemed to be vastly improved after making field goals from 49 and 41 yards in a win over Detroit last week and he was three-of-four against Minnesota the week before.
But Sunday was another nightmare afternoon.
“We’ve been taking the long 50-yard opportunities preparing him to make the game-winner,’’ McCarthy said. “So I have all the confidence when we line up at home in Lambeau that we’re going to go out there and we’re going to have our spot and we’re going to have a field-position plan and we’re going to line up and kick it when that opportunity comes. He has to do his part.”
Crosby understands, and knows keeping a positive approach is his only option moving forward.
“I can’t sit and sulk, think about missed kicks, because I have to make kicks and we’re going to get to the playoffs,’’ he said, “and there’s going to be some big ones down the line here.’’
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