Packers kicker Mason Crosby connecting in the clutch despite unusual conditions
GREEN BAY - Mason Crosby has kicked at home, kicked outdoors on the road, kicked indoors, kicked in wickedly windy conditions and kicked in silence.
The 2020 season has been like no other for the 36-year-old Green Bay Packers kicker.
On Sunday, Crosby connected on a field goal for the 15th time without a miss this year and it was a big one. After guard Elgton Jenkins committed a 5-yard false-start penalty, the ball was put on the 40-yard line, setting up a 57-yard attempt with the Packers leading 28-21 and under 4 minutes to go.
Crosby nailed it and the Packers held on to improve to 10-3 and clinch the NFC North.
It came with no fans inside Ford Field and the silence was deafening.
“It's weird whenever you score,” Crosby said. “The crowd doesn't erupt. It’s interesting, being able to hear just the other team talking, even just random communication.
“You know, even like that in Detroit, I could hear coach (Matt) LaFleur and (special teams coach) Shawn (Mennenga) talking over there, about, ‘Are we going to punt it or are we going to kick a field goal?’”
It was after hearing that conversation that Crosby flashed LaFleur a thumbs up even though it was 3 yards beyond the limit he had established in warm-ups. Crosby said he doesn’t normally ask to kick from beyond the established limit, but he thought it was a key moment that called for a clutch kick.
Crosby hasn’t had to hit many clutch field goals this season because the offense has been so dominant. Over his career, he had averaged 31 attempts per year, but this season he has had only four games with more than one attempt and three games with no attempts.
Crosby and Seattle’s Jason Myers (18 of 18) are the only kickers with at least 13 attempts who have not missed this season. Crosby has missed three of his 50 extra points, only the second time he has missed that many since the NFL moved the line of scrimmage back to the 15-yard line in 2015.
Kicking in his home stadium has been no walk in the park this season.
Crosby has connected on the same percentage of field goals at home as on the road during his career (81.7%), but considering he’s guaranteed of kicking indoors at least two times a year and usually winds up doing it more than that on the road, it’s impressive that he has done just as well at home.
Twice this year (Minnesota and Jacksonville), Crosby had to kick inside Lambeau when the winds were blowing at around 25 mph. The first game was against the Vikings and he’s not sure how anyone managed to kick or throw in those conditions.
“I ran out and I saw (Vikings kicker) Dan Bailey, his ball blew off, like from the holder, the metal holder, where he was just kicking by himself,” Crosby said. “And then I look over and their kicking net comes flying down the sideline.
“That was my entrance into Lambeau that day.”
Crosby managed to hit all five extra points he attempted and the lone field goal in those two games. He had back-to-back games with missed extra points before the Lions game, but since recovering from a midseason calf injury appears to be hitting the ball well.
Rarely has he hit it better than he did at Ford Field.
“I think I was pretty excited because I did kind of put myself on the line a little bit just because I told coach I felt good about it,” Crosby said. “It was a little outside of the line we had set, and I was just jacked up.
“I knew it had gotten us up by 10 and that's a big moment in the game. It was leading to a North division championship and getting us into playoffs. So, it was exciting.”
Wagner fitting in
It had to be gratifying for tackle Rick Wagner, who was released by the Lions last offseason, to start at right tackle for the Packers on Sunday.
Wagner hasn’t expressed any hard feelings on the matter, but considering the Lions had to start a former defensive lineman at right tackle against the Packers, he at least validated that he wasn’t washed up.
“It was a good team win,” Wagner said. “It was definitely weird being back in Detroit after playing there for a few years. But I thought we played well as a unit and we have to keep this momentum going.”
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Wagner filled in at right tackle for the sixth time this year, and he has been just what the Packers could have hoped. He has held up well despite playing next to two different guards during his starts.
Having played four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens prior to going to Detroit, Wagner knows what it’s like to win. The last three years with the Lions included a lot of losses and so getting a chance to be back with a winning team has been rewarding.
“This is a truly special team,” Wagner said. “It’s an honor being part of this team. Just being on this offensive unit, we’re clicking now.”
There wasn’t much change in the Packers’ injury report, but the Panthers announced that running back Christian McCaffrey (thigh) would not play.
McCaffrey attempted to practice Wednesday, but coach Matt Ruhle said he is not ready to return. The Panthers had hoped to have him back last week, but Ruhle is taking no chances with his star running back.
The only player who did not take part in the Packers’ walk-through Wednesday was tight end Jace Sternberger, who is still in the concussion protocol. The only change in status was receiver Malik Taylor (hamstring) being upgraded to limited participant.