The Green Bay Packers’ unquestioning faith in Mason Crosby in spite of a trying 2012 campaign facilitated his resurgence in 2013.
A year after converting a league-worst 21-of-33 field-goal attempts, Crosby has made 29-of-33 of his tries this season and is on pace to hit all of the benchmarks to earn back his original $2.4 million salary, which was lowered to $840,000 in a September restructure.
If the season were to end today, Crosby would set a new career-high for accuracy (87.9 percent) after making three more kicks in Sunday’s 22-21 win over Atlanta.
“Kicking the ball in the NFL is no easy chore,” special-teams coach Shawn Slocum said. “He’s a very talented kicker. It’s a tough process and it’s easy as I said last year, the easy thing to do is to change personnel. That’s not always the right thing to do. He’s having a good year, that’s a credit to him and his work ethic.”
Crosby has been perhaps the biggest bright spot during a down year for the special-teams unit, so why the Packers didn’t do the same with kick returner Jeremy Ross?
The 25-year-old Ross seemed shell-shacked following a costly muffed punt in last January’s 45-31 playoff loss to San Francisco. He earned a roster spot on the last day of the preseason, but was timid on kickoff returns once it began.
The final straw came in Week 3 in Cincinnati when he fumbled a first-quarter kickoff in a 34-30 loss to Bengals. He was released the following day, but quickly latched on with Detroit and has since taken over as the Lions’ returner.
After torching the Packers on Thanksgiving, he scored twice in Detroit’s 34-20 loss to Phialdelphia on Sunday off a 98-yard kickoff return and 58-yard punt return. His six returns in snowy conditions went for a combined 243 yards.
Meanwhile, the Packers still are the NFL’s bottom-feeder on kickoffs with a 18.9-yard per return average. Rookie Micah Hyde is one of the league-leaders on punt returns, but hadn’t returned a kickoff since high school prior to his insertion into the role in October.
“Mason played one position for us. The other young man played more positions. Had some problems before he left us,” Slocum said. “They were critical. In four consecutive games had two major problems and we made a decision to move. He did a nice job against us, he did a nice job yesterday in the snow.
It’s one thing if the Packers were like other NFL teams who regularly turnover their roster midseason. It’s another when you’re a team who has released three active players – Ross, running back Michael Hill and safety Jerron McMillian – in 14 weeks.
While Crosby and punter Tim Masthay appear to be at the peak of their powers, the Packers are still looking for an answer on returns – it just wasn’t Ross.
“I think mindset is a big part of performance,” Slocum said. “I think a person with a clear head and confident ability to trust their training and execute is a key to success and guys can do it and stay in the same spot, sometimes guys need a new front door.”