Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY, Wis. — He left the crammed visitors’ locker room in Baltimore, boarded the team bus and couldn’t help himself. Mason Crosby needed to scroll through his Twitter feed after this Oct. 13 win.
At the end of the first half, the Green Bay Packers kicker missed a 44-yard field goal. Green Bay forced a fumble and then drilled a 31-yarder before halftime.
Crosby went 4 of 5 and Green Bay won, 19-17.
“So literally on Twitter in that 30-second time frame, it was the craziest and funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Crosby said. “It was ‘I can’t believe you missed!’ and all these bad tweets about me missing the kick. And then, literally, I get another kick right before half and it’s like, ‘Great kick! Way to end the half!’”
The reason for such schizophrenic support is 2012. This time last season, Crosby’s employment was put on trial by the public every Monday. But the coaches stood by the player. Through the season. Through the off-season. Through training camp.
And after hitting a NFL-low 63.6 percent of his kicks, Crosby is in a 2013 groove. After 13 games, he’s 29 of 33, good for 87.9 percent. Both Crosby and his position coach agree that this has been his best season.
With or without No. 12, points are at a premium for these Packers. There’s a reasonable chance Crosby will tilt the balance these final three games.
Somehow, he has buried 2012 from his memory to become the guy more likely to save the Packers than to cost them.
“Through all of last year,” Crosby said, “the frustrating part was I know what I’m capable of. So, yes, there was lots of frustration. But I knew I could work through all of that.”
After polishing off sushi with wasabi Thursday afternoon — “I like spicy,” he says — Crosby takes a drink of water at his locker. He’s a more relaxed guy this December. Crosby responded to the summer challenge from Giorgio Tavecchio, to the pay cut, to the daily pressure.
As special teams coach Shawn Slocum said, “When the guy’s having success you tend to be in a better mood.”
Through a rough intrasquad scrimmage and one loud “Make the kick!” from Slocum over the speaker during another practice, Crosby performed.
Statistically, this has been Crosby’s best season, but Slocum also notes this is the most confident Crosby has been.
He wasn’t necessarily angry in 2012 — Crosby was frustrated. On the phone, he talked to his father weekly. At home, he talked to his wife nightly. Every athlete preaches the virtues of not getting too high or too low. Crosby lived it.
In 2010, he won a Super Bowl. Into 2011, he made 23 straight kicks. Then, the avalanche began. Crosby went 2 of 9 from 50-plus.
Those messages from fans had a more malicious tone then.
Said Crosby, “Some people did get ridiculous on Twitter with the cussing, the threats, things like that.”
Death threats? Crosby pauses, thinks back and says, “No, just harsh words.” His wife Molly told him to stop reading it all. In a strange way, Crosby enjoys reading the good and the bad. It forces him to stay in the middle.
And yet over the off-season, to rebound, he needed to “wipe out any negativity.” Beyond technical work, he didn’t relive the misses for leisure; didn’t dwell on them. He tried to reinforce any and all positives. Crosby evaluated his 2012 “season” in a different way that kept him stable.
“I reflected a lot on the positives that came about for me as a father, as a husband, as a son, as a friend to different people; I felt like I grew in a lot of ways,” Crosby said. “On the field, it wasn’t anywhere close to what I want to do for my job. But off the field, I was seeking out positive things, good things that I could carry on forever and it carried over into success on the field this year.”
Crosby admits he could have “holed away.” He could have “gone that direction.” Doing so could’ve banished Crosby straight to the waiver wire. Instead, he leaned on family. Mom. Dad. His wife. His kids, Nolan and Charlotte.
Football-wise, he now writes messages to himself. He engrains it in his psyche.
Be smooth. Be consistent. Have good tempo. Don’t go too quick.
Crosby can laugh about the tweets. Big picture, he doesn’t let anything infiltrate this equilibrium.
On the field, the easy answer for a struggling kicker is to “let go,” Crosby explains. He’s no fan of that logic. He wants the intensity, the pressure that comes with his profession.
“I love that intense competition,” he said. “I love that focus of going out to compete and make kicks and being part of this team.”
So that’s the mentality Crosby took through training camp and the season. Even on non-kicking days, Slocum said he’s working against air.
Punter Tim Masthay isn’t surprised Crosby bounced back. And yeah, Crosby had the clunker on Family Night — making 3 of 8 field-goal attempts during that midsummer nightmare — but Masthay insists that’s the only rough day Crosby had since players reported back in April. The one, brief hiccup.
“All I know is from the time we got here in April until now, other than Family Night, he has been hitting a dead straight ball,” Masthay said. “There’s differences, too, in makes and misses. Even when he has missed in practice, he’s hitting a very solid, straight ball. And on many of his makes, it’s dead down the center. It’s not squeezing in.
“He has been kicking the ball exceptionally well.”
Two of Green Bay’s final three (must-win) games will be in inclement weather. Um, OK, likely freezing, unbearable weather. Walking outside to get his mail this week — the wind chill 15 degrees below zero — Crosby stopped himself and thought, “How do we play football in this?”
The key as a kicker, he says, is not overcompensating. He tries to stay smooth, rhythmic and not swing with too much force. After going 3 of 3 against Atlanta, Crosby is now 40 of 53 at Lambeau Field and other cold climates in December and January.
But on Sunday, Crosby has an indoor game. And a kicker searching for all positive vibes should have no trouble at AT&T Stadium, the sight of Super Bowl XLV.
Very soon, the Packers might be relying on that polarizing right leg.
“We won by one point last week and he made three field goals,” Masthay said. “He misses one of those we lose. That’s the perfect example right there.”
Many times, Crosby has said he wants the game to rest of his shoulders. This winter, there’s genuine calm behind that message.