First Two Years Eventful For Crosby

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Kicker Mason Crosby has seen a little bit of everything in his first two seasons in the NFL. Reflecting on the body of work thus far in his young career reveals plenty to take pride in, a couple of disappointments, and some oh-so-close calls, with a lot to look forward to in 2009.

The achievements

Coming off a rookie season in which he led the NFL in scoring with 141 points in 2007, Crosby added 127 points in his second year, and his two-year total of 268 points is more than any player in NFL history has scored in his first two seasons.

"I did not know that, but hearing it now, that's pretty sweet," said Crosby following a recent offseason workout. "It's really a credit to the team and the offense. These first two years have been unbelievable with how many points we're scoring, how many opportunities I'm getting to kick field goals. I'm just blessed and happy I get out on the field as much as I do.

"I think it's just going to continue on. We're a powerful offense and we're going to find ways to put points on the board."

Crosby also boosted his touchback total from 14 his rookie season to 17 last year, the most in a single season by a Packers kicker since 1972 when Chester Marcol had 28, and the most for this team since kickoffs were moved from the 35-yard line back to the 30 in 1994.

To improve on that in 2009, Crosby has his work cut out for him. He likely needs to be at or very near last year's total through the Thanksgiving game in Week 12, because the Packers play four potential cold-weather games in a row in December (two at home vs. Baltimore and Seattle, plus road contests at Chicago and Pittsburgh) when touchbacks could be harder to come by.

Still, it's a challenge he looks forward to.

"I want to always be going up, so next year I'm shooting for 20-plus," he said. "Touchbacks are important. It gets them started on the 20, and we don't have to bang around as much, so it keeps guys healthy.

"But at the same time I'm working on different things, focusing on hang time, distance and placing the ball, so if the conditions aren't perfect to crank one and go for that touchback we can still pin them deep. Ultimately, we have to do the best thing we can for our defense to keep them backed up."

The disappointments

Without prompting, Crosby is the first to mention the two failed game-winning attempts that played a big part in Green Bay's 6-10 record in 2008.

After hitting a last-second game-winner in his first game as a pro to beat Philadelphia in the 2007 season opener, Crosby didn't get another such chance until Week 10 last year in the Metrodome, and his 52-yard attempt sailed just wide right with 26 seconds left in a 28-27 defeat to Minnesota.

Crosby recovered from the miss well, making nine straight field goals over the next five games, and was poised for redemption when lining up a 38-yarder in the final half-minute at Chicago in Week 16. But that try was blocked, and the Packers lost 20-17 in overtime.

"Those hurt," Crosby said. "But I try not to dwell on them, try not to think how could I have done it different. Last year I felt great with how I was contacting the ball, and it's one of those disappointing things where they didn't go the way I wanted them to."

Crosby knows he can't control when the game-on-the-line opportunities arise, but he can control his mental focus and preparation, and he has no doubts his confidence won't waver the next time that situation is upon him.

"Year to year it's going to be different, and I know I'm going to have more chances," he said. "Ultimately you want to win by 20 points but it doesn't always happen that way. I'm going to have a chance to kick those again this year, and I'm going to be ready just because my preparation and everything I'm going through is heightened even more."

The close calls

That late-season heartbreak in Chicago contributed to Crosby narrowly missing his efficiency goal last season. He made 79.5 percent of his field goals as a rookie (31-of-39) and was aiming to improve that to 85 percent.

With two games remaining last year, Crosby was at 86.2 percent (25-of-29). But a miss in the third quarter at Chicago, followed by the block, plus a valiant effort at a 69-yard free kick in the season finale vs. Detroit left him with a 2-for-5 finish and 79.4 percent (27-of-34) for the year.

Had he made the long free kick - set up by a fair catch of a punt with no time remaining in the first half - he would have not only reached 82 percent but also shattered the NFL record for longest field goal. New Orleans' Tom Dempsey (1970) and Denver's Jason Elam (1998) share the mark at 63 yards.

Crosby struck it about as solidly as he could, and at first he felt it had a good chance, but the 10-degree wind-chill factor probably played a part in it falling just a couple of yards short.

"I think earlier in the year we might have gotten a little more carry," he said. "I thought I hit it well. When it came off my foot I kind of started going down the field after it, and I thought it was in. But that (north) end zone can be a little tricky, that wind starts swirling. Literally it looked like it was going and then was knocked down right in front of the uprights."

{sportsad300}That said, Crosby proved he's got the leg to break the league record should he get another try. He had a 58-yarder in college, kicked at Miami, the third-longest field goal in the college or pro ranks kicked at sea level without a tee, behind Dempsey and New Orleans' Morten Andersen (60 yards vs. Chicago, 1990).

"Ultimately in the back of my mind that's always been a goal," Crosby said of the record. "In college I liked kicking the long ball, and I'm always confident outside of 55 and stuff like that. During pre-game I'll always try a couple long ones and see how I'm feeling. If we get the right circumstance and the right time ..."

The future

Crosby, like many of his teammates, is genuinely fired up about the coming season, but he's pacing himself. He concentrated his work in the offseason strength and conditioning program on core exercises that help with stability, balance and flexibility, all valuable physical attributes for a kicker.

Now he's participating in organized team activities (OTAs), and the progression continues through training camp and the start of the regular season.

Crosby is keeping the intensity of his training and focus in step with that progression. It requires patience and diligence at the same time.

"In the offseason you try to take a break and you don't want to be gung-ho, because once you get in OTAs, training camp and the season, it's always 'on'," he said. "But at the same time I'm trying to stay sharp."

Sharp enough, hopefully, to add to the accomplishments, limit the disappointments, and get the close calls to go his way.

"It needs to be a good gradual climb so you go into that season feeling confident, feeling good," Crosby said. "I feel confident in my physical tools, feel good about how I'm approaching the game, and I just need to keep building that up until the season comes."

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