Mason Crosby is a Green Bay Packers legend through and through and will one day end up in the Packers Hall of Fame. They could end up elevating him to the Ring of Honor at Lambeau Field. He’s the all-time leading scorer by a vast margin and ranks inside the top-15 in scoring in NFL history. He is a Super Bowl champ who has made countless winning kicks throughout his career.
Crosby is also holding Green Bay back in what could certainly be the last great chance to win the Super Bowl for a while.
Following Green Bay’s 34-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Packers coach Matt LaFleur was asked whether or not there was a need to potentially go in a different direction at the kicker position following another shaky game by Crosby. LaFleur was definitive in his answer, dismissing the question and staunchly supporting the 15-year veteran.
However, the case against Crosby is starting to pile up. He’s only made two of his last six kicks. He missed a pair of field goals that could have changed the game’s tenor in a 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9. Crosby missed from 32 yards against Minnesota on Sunday, points that the Packers most certainly needed early in the second quarter. His heroic kick to cap off a miraculous drive by Aaron Rodgers gave Green Bay a road win over the San Francisco 49ers. Still, somehow he got away with missing three field goals and an extra point in the Packers’ 25-22 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Perhaps his most legendary moment came five years ago when Crosby hit a 56- and a 51-yard field goal in the final 93 seconds of the NFC Divisional round road game against the Dallas Cowboys to send Green Bay to the NFC Championship game. That was a 32-year old Crosby that Packers fans had faith in, no matter what.
Crosby connected from 54 yards early in the game on Sunday, but barely. There were no conditions to blame; the game was held indoors at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. While it counted, the effort was less than convincing.
As the season wears on, plenty of different elements are starting to add up to tilt the scales against the Packers. For multiple weeks, Green Bay has been without some of its best players: David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Aaron Jones. They just lost Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins for the season due to an ACL tear. They’ve also been without Aaron Rodgers, Rashan Gary, Robert Tonyan, Preston Smith, Josh Myers, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Kevin King — the list goes on and on. Despite all of that, the Packers have a three-game lead in the NFC North with six games to play, and they are currently the No. 2 seed in the conference.
Having injuries isn’t unique, but it means that Green Bay’s margin for error has narrowed. When Rodgers is playing like a fire-breathing dragon, the offense can beat almost anyone in the league. The defense has shown flashes of being an elite unit, punctuated by a shutout win over the Seattle Seahawks a week ago.
But all three units need to be clicking simultaneously for this team to win the Super Bowl. The defense in the playoffs has often been the culprit in the Aaron Rodgers Era, surrendering 33.9 points per game in Green Bay’s eight playoff losses since the Super Bowl XLV win in 2011. Giving up 34 points to the Kirk Cousins-led Vikings, on the road, in Minnesota’s important game of the season isn’t necessarily what you’d prefer, but the defense has been up to the task more often than not this year.
It would be a shame if it were the special teams unit for Green Bay that ultimately was the final nail in the coffin for this iteration of Packers teams. Suppose the offense and defense can get healthy enough. In that case, there aren’t too many reasons this team shouldn’t at least be looking at another NFC Championship game appearance, with hopefully a better turn of events than the last few showings. How good would you feel about Crosby lining up a 51-yard kick in Arizona with a chance to go to the Super Bowl? Or, potentially somehow even worse, are you feeling great about his odds of hitting even a 41-yarder in a frigid game at Lambeau Field with a chance to advance?
The trend in the NFL has been to eschew field goals in favor of analytics. Teams are increasingly going for it on fourth down, and the Packers have certainly followed right along with that trend. At some point, there will be more critical moments in Green Bay that come down to the snap, hold, and kick by the special teams unit.
Cutting Crosby mid-season would be among the most challenging decisions that general manager Brian Gutekunst would ever have to make. Plus, there would be financial ramifications on an already dicey salary cap situation. There’s a decade and a half of goodwill that he and his family have engendered within the entire Packers community. Countless moments will live in Packers lore forever. However, Crosby is not playing at a championship level right now. There might come a time before long where those impossible conversations need to be had. It’s the front office’s job to make the team as good as conceivably possible, and it would take overcoming an overwhelming mountain of sentimentality to hang the pink slip in Crosby’s locker. But if the Packers are truly all in, moving on from Crosby might be the cost.