Field goals in good hands for Pack with kicker Mason Crosby
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Kicker Mason Crosby's stall in the Green Bay Packers' locker room is near the one belonging to star linebacker Clay Matthews, a location that can get so busy with media attention that Crosby is sometimes booted from his own space.
Matthews is at the core of the Packers' defense, but on special teams, Crosby has played just as critical a role in Green Bay's success.
Longevity and accuracy have allowed Crosby to become the franchise's career scoring leader with 1,057 points. He passed Ryan Longwell with a 21-yard chip shot in the fourth quarter of last week's victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Crosby is 5 of 5 to start this season going into Monday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He has hit at least 81 percent of his field goals in three of the four previous seasons.
The career 79 percent kicker is getting better as he gets older.
After nearly a decade in the league, Crosby said there is no secret to his longevity. He analyzes each year every offseason. He finds ways to get more comfortable with his routine each week.
''As soon as the ball leaves my foot, I have this freedom - I know that I can't do anything once it's in the air,'' Crosby said. ''If I take care of everything right behind it, then I've handled everything I can in that moment.''
The routine brings to mind the way a golfer visualizes a shot before pulling out a driver, like how Jason Day held his driver in front of him and closed his eyes for a few moments before stepping up to tees before this year's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
Crosby was there, taking a break during training camp to catch a round of the major held about an hour's drive south from Lambeau Field.
''I do the same things on a weekly basis ... just making sure I see those situations, those kicks, before they ever happen,'' Crosby said. ''When I'm in a game, I can just be free, go out, execute and know that I'm prepared to live kick in a game.''
It hasn't always been this easy.
The low point came in 2012, when Crosby connected on a career-worst 63 percent of field goals. The next year, coach Mike McCarthy brought in competition in training camp, but Crosby did enough to keep his job.
Crosby rewarded McCarthy's confidence by hitting a career-high 89 percent of field goals in 2013.
Said McCarthy: ''I just felt he was going through a tough patch and just needed support. It worked out. Thank God we were smart enough to go that way.''
Crosby still draws on that challenging year. A sixth-round draft pick in 2007 out of Colorado, Crosby remains thankful for McCarthy's loyalty.
''I think it punched me in the gut a little bit and really got me focusing on what I need to do to get to that next level,'' Crosby said.
Part of that routine includes having a short memory both for misses and makes. Crosby compartmentalizes each attempt, regardless of how successful he has been, and doesn't want to take every kick for granted.
Except maybe for that kick against Seattle that gave him the Packers scoring record. That ball is now at home in the safe hands of his 5-year-old son, Nolan.
''My son enjoyed tossing it around,'' Crosby said with a smile.
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