The new-look Green Bay Packers had one heck of an opening performance against the Chicago Bears, trouncing their rivals 38-0. While all eyes were on Jordan Love and his offense, Love wasn’t the only one in the spotlight after replacing a franchise legend.
After a rocky offseason, Anders Carlson showed off his impressive leg in his regular-season debut. Replacing Mason Crosby, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, was always a daunting task. But the rookie proved the lights weren’t too bright for him with a perfect day.
One game is a small litmus test, but Carlson is showing why the Packers gambled on his upside. If he can stay consistent, and the Packers remain patient, Carlson’s leg strength could be a difference maker in helping the young offense.
It’s not easy being a kicker in the NFL. You’re expected to be automatic lest you earn the ire of your team’s fanbase. It’s a given you should make extra points; you won’t receive any glory for it. And unlike other positions, you’re on your own in a high-pressure situation. Many teams won’t take the risk of drafting a kicker, and those that do often regret it or move on early.
The Carlson pick looked like a reach at the time. Draft consensus didn’t have Carlson as a priority pickup, and he probably could have been brought in as a UDFA. But Green Bay loved the former Auburn Tiger’s leg strength and upside. The connection with Rich Bisaccia, who helped turn Anders’ brother Daniel from a potential bust to one of the league’s best kickers, made the pick make sense.
Carlson’s big leg is appealing for a cold-weather team like the Packers, but his accuracy left something to be desired. That continued through this off-season, with lots of ups and downs for the rookie. However, Carlson always seemed to play his best in high-pressure situations. Carlson was near-perfect on Family Night, and his preseason featured more good than bad.
He carried that energy into his regular-season debut with a perfect day. Carlson went 5/5 on extra points and ended the first half with a booming 52-yarder down the middle that would have been good from 60 or more.
Via Acme Packing Company’s Paul Noonan, Carlson’s 52-yard field goal was the second-longest to start a career in franchise history. Only Mason Crosby’s own debut, featuring a 53-yarder in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, was longer. That’s good company to be in.
Green Bay’s offense rolled along in the second half, not needing too much from Carlson’s leg. But the rookie did everything right.
Matt LaFleur praised his young kicker, especially on the field goal. With the first half winding down, Love and Luke Musgrave badly missed on a potential touchdown. Carlson dealt with a high-pressure, long field goal with some clock weirdness and a high snap but nailed the kick with plenty to spare.
“That was the plan,” LaFleur joked. “We were trying to put him in the worst possible situation.”
In addition to Carlson’s leg, LaFleur and Bisaccia praised his mental makeup multiple times this offseason. Being a kicker is a very lonely position, and the lows can be tough to recover from. Carlson has shown an ability to bounce back when needed.
Thankfully, he didn’t need to show that ability this Sunday. Instead, last week’s victory is a foundation for the young kicker to build from. He’s seen that he can walk into enemy territory under the big lights and come out on top. That’s a huge confidence booster.
Not every game will go like this one for Carlson, though. A rookie kicker is bound to have some bad games that will make fans cry out for a new kicker. Even on those bad days, Carlson’s Week 1 performance should remind fans of his upside and why we should be patient.
The offense didn’t move the ball super well during the first half, and the Love and Co. will face tougher defenses than the Bears in the coming weeks. The offense has already dealt with a few pesky hamstring injuries and won’t always be at full capacity. Even if Love is the guy we hope he is, having a big-legged kicker can make a world of difference.
With a young offense and a defense that hasn’t always played to its talent level, the Packers were always going to need to lean on special teams a bit. Having a rookie kicker made that a little less reliable, especially after he had such a rocky off-season. But Carlson has shown he can be a gamer when it counts. If he can stay consistent and build off of an impressive Week 1, his mighty leg can be a difference-maker.