ARLINGTON, Texas - They gathered on the sideline as their counterparts’ field goal split the uprights, craning their necks straight up at that Texas-sized scoreboard.
Nobody said a word. They just looked at the time. There were 35 seconds left in Sunday’s divisional playoff game. Enough ticks, they knew, to have a chance.
So Mason Crosby, Jacob Schum and Brett Goode went back to work.
“Nothing was off the table,” Crosby said. “As soon as he kicked that field goal, we had two timeouts. I knew we probably had a shot.”
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They had every reason to think their snap, hold and kick on a 56-yard field goal with 1:33 left already had advanced the Green Bay Packers to Atlanta, to another NFC title game. Instead, the Dallas Cowboys chewed up 42 yards in 58 seconds, forcing a tie with Dan Bailey’s 52-yard field goal.
No sweat. Plenty of time. The Packers' field-goal battery stayed calm.
They didn’t see Jared Cook’s sideline tap dance. They kept working straight through the official review confirming his catch. Crosby crushed footballs into the net. Schum and Goode practiced their snap and hold.
Over and over and over again.
By the time they trotted out for what Crosby later called the biggest kick of his career, a look at a 51-yard field goal to send the franchise to its third NFC title game in seven years, they were ready. Confident. The snap and hold were perfect, the kick split the uprights.
And the whistle blew.
Timeout, Dallas. Crosby had to kick the biggest field goal of his career again.
“Just reset,” snapper Goode said, “like we come back out there for another field goal. That’s the way it is. You just want to treat it all like a new field goal. You don’t want to treat it like they iced Mason, or any of that.”
Said Crosby: “You just try to stay even, not let it get too high or low there. Try to go right back into your process. Got over by myself, took a couple deep breaths.”
And slid his 51-yard field goal inside the left upright, into the teeth of a title-starved town, giving the Packers a 34-31 win that flipped the script on a recent history full of final-play postseason losses.
Crosby said his range inside the climate-controlled AT&T Stadium was 58 yards, meaning the Packers needed to get to the 40-yard line. As the game tightened and Crosby’s adrenaline spiked, he pushed that line back. Cross midfield, Crosby told special teams coordinator Ron Zook, and he had a chance to reach the crossbar.
It was bold, almost unreasonable confidence, considering Crosby’s history. Before Sunday, Crosby never had made a potential game-winning field goal from longer than 50 yards. He did it twice in 93 seconds against the Cowboys, extending his NFL postseason record to 23 consecutive made field goals.
Schum said he sensed a calmness in Crosby on the field, a sureness. His kicker never had a doubt.
“He’s got ice in his veins,” Schum said. “Just let him do his own thing. Brett and I are going to be working, just work snaps and holds, and Mason stays in his own head, doing his own thing, his own routine. We all trust him to do what he does and be able to put that ball through the uprights.
“You could just see in his face, ‘It’s just another kick. I’m going to crush this.’ That’s exactly what he did. So it’s just awesome to be a part of it.”
It wasn’t the mere distance that made Crosby’s kick memorable. At least not to him. The son of a University of Texas-El Paso running back, Crosby grew up in the heart of Texas. For a Georgetown kid living just 2½ hours from Cowboys Stadium — a stone’s throw in this state — the Cowboys were king.
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Crosby was 12 years old the last time the Cowboys won a Super Bowl. That’s also the last time the Cowboys advanced to the conference championship game.
To derail the Cowboys' best hope of a championship since their 1990s dynasty, Crosby had to smile.
“I feel pretty good about doing that one,” Crosby said, “and obviously I grew up a Cowboys fan, but been here in Green Bay a long time. That’s what it’s all about. That rivalry, a game like that, to be able to put my mark on it, it’s pretty special.”
Crosby’s kick replaced a swell of recent playoff heartbreak. There was the overtime loss in Arizona last season, Larry Fitzgerald rumbling through the middle of the Packers defense. The botched onside kick in Seattle. The last-second field goal against the San Francisco 49ers.
Five years ago, the Packers lived the Cowboys' nightmare. They were the NFC’s top seed, rested from a bye as they entered their 2011 playoff opener at Lambeau Field. And they were upset that afternoon by the New York Giants.
Those memories returned as the Cowboys forced themselves back into the game in the final minutes. That a game-winning field goal was even necessary came as surprise. The Packers entered the fourth quarter with a 28-13 lead, in firm control.
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They felt themselves losing that control as the minutes waned.
“How that game started going,” Crosby said, “it was like, ‘All right, let’s not do this again.’”
The Packers didn’t do that again for many reasons, none more significant than Crosby’s right foot. A month after a game-winning kick in Chicago, Crosby did it twice Sunday.
This is why Packers general manager Ted Thompson opened the bank last offseason, re-signing Crosby to a four-year, $16 million contract that placed him among the league's most expensive kickers. Thompson, guiding a team with Super Bowl aspirations, decided not to cut corners at a position that doesn't play many snaps, but can swing playoff games.
It was a risk. Betting on a kicker is always a gamble. Even the best can crumble.
Just ask the Minnesota Vikings. A year ago, they lost a wild-card game against Seattle when kicker Blair Walsh pushed his 27-yard field goal wide left. Walsh’s contract was $1 million richer than Crosby’s, but when he continued struggling after failing to come through in the clutch, the Vikings were forced to release him this season.
Thompson’s decision to pay a clutch kicker to stay with his Super Bowl contender paid off. Now, the Packers are back in the NFC title game, with a kicker that inspires total confidence should a Super Bowl trip be on the line.
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Crosby wasn’t the only one Sunday who didn’t have a doubt.
“For Mason to hit those two kicks,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “he’s the best kicker in the league, and he’s got to do it outdoors for most of the season on a tough field at times, and he’s so reliable for us. He’s made a bunch of them in the playoffs.
“It’s just incredible that he makes it twice.”