‘Defining moment’ for Crosby led to career-best season

A year after finishing the 2012 season as the NFL's worst field-goal kicker with a 63.6-percent accuracy mark, Packers kicker Mason Crosby connected on a career-high 89.2 percent of his attempts in 2013.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — As Mason Crosby reflected on his 2013 season, he wasn’t quite satisfied. It was arguably a season that saved his career. It was a season that made his significant pay cut in training camp nothing more than a temporary financial hold.

Crosby was accurate, he was consistent and he gave the Green Bay Packers everything they worried he may not be able to give them. But even after connecting on a career-high 89.2 percent of his field-goal attempts, Crosby fell just shy of where he wanted to be.

"My goal was 90 percent, and I wanted to be there," Crosby said. "I accomplished a lot of goals and a lot of things I wanted to do. But I want to get to that 90 percent and be over that 90 percent for a season. So that definitely will keep my focus sharp for the offseason and I’ll keep working toward that."

Crosby’s goals had to be much more simplistic a year ago. At the end of the 2012 season, he had finished as the NFL’s worst field-goal kicker witn an accuracy of 63.6 percent. Forget goals about making 90 percent, Crosby desperately needed to just get near his career average of 77 percent.

The Packers certainly had their concerns about whether Crosby could bounce back from that 2012 season. They slashed his $2.4 million salary down to $800,000 — with incentives for him to make all of the money back — and brought in another kicker at two different points of training camp to compete with Crosby. It was during the second of those competitions, while kicking head-to-head against Zachary Ramirez, that changed everything for Crosby.

"I hit a 58-yarder into maybe like a 10-to-15-mile-an-hour wind that was probably the best kick I ever hit," Crosby said.

After having beaten out the energetic Giorgio Tavecchio, Crosby had to attempt 25 field goals in live action during the final days of training camp. He made 24 of those, including a perfect 14-for-14 performance that officially ended any external competition.

"It was just kind of a whirlwind, crazy couple of days," Crosby said. "But I’m thankful for them because I drew from that all season. As the grind of the season went on and stuff happened, I’d start my week and occasionally looked at that and thought, ‘That was a defining moment.’ That was the moment where I took over, where I took control of my job and that position. That was the moment obviously where I took the job, and I’m thankful for those days.

"There were a lot of kicks and it was very draining, but it was also extremely positive. Those are definitely defining moments and it’s something I will remember forever and always draw from."

Four weeks before Crosby’s defining moment, he made only 3 of 8 field-goal attempts during the Family Night scrimmage and was dramatically outperformed by Tavecchio.

"I didn’t like what I saw on Family Night, but I loved his response," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said of Crosby.

But what convinced Slocum that Crosby’s struggles were behind him was the same thing that convinced Crosby: the 24-for-25 performance in those back-to-back kicking competitions at the end of training camp.

Packers season report card

"When we kicked an excessive amount of field goals and he did extremely well, there was a lot of pressure there because of his performance on Family Night, having competition in camp, training-camp environment, crowd," Slocum said. "The media was reporting his makes and misses, and he responded extremely well in that situation. At that point, I felt good about where he was and he carried that out throughout the season."

When things looked bleak, Crosby rarely showed signs of frustration, at least publicly. Though he was hardly in a cheery mood, Crosby even stopped to talk with reporters in two different sessions after his disappointing struggles on Family Night — including one in the hallway as he was getting ready to see his family. Always cordial, Crosby talked positively about working his way through the adversity.

Slocum saw a different side of Crosby. He saw an angry kicker who wanted to show everyone what he was capable of doing.

"Yeah, I do; I do, I see that," Slocum said. "He’s not a guy that’s going to be real vocal about things, but I saw him as a competitor, I saw the smoke come out of his ears a couple times and I thought that was a good sign."

Despite his career-best year, Crosby finished 13th in the NFL in field-goal accuracy. Only missing four kicks in 37 tries is still a very good season, but it’s no longer top-10 worthy in a league where accuracy is soaring to all-time high levels. Slocum described it as "just natural evolution" of field-goal kicking now that there "are better athletes" who are "better trained."

Still, considering how far Crosby came over the past year, the Packers can rest a lot more comfortably this offseason in knowing they don’t have to find a new kicker.

"I have to re-evaluate this year and then move on and try creating something special for next year," Crosby said. "That’s what I did last offseason and I felt like that worked well for me and that’s what I plan to do this year."

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