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Tom Oates: Mason Crosby’s failures mask greater issues for Packers in ugly loss to Lions

October 8, 2018

DETROIT — It would be easy to point an accusatory finger at kicker Mason Crosby and claim he lost the game for the Green Bay Packers.

The arithmetic would even back you up on that.

Crosby, one of the NFL’s better kickers throughout his 12-year career, developed a case of the yips against the Detroit Lions Sunday at Ford Field, missing four field goal attempts and one extra-point try, only one of them longer than 42 yards. If you could have awarded those 13 relatively easy points to the Packers, their 31-23 loss to the Lions might have been a five-point victory instead.

But no one involved with the Packers was pointing a finger at their well-respected kicker afterward, which was a good thing. Crosby might be a convenient scapegoat for some, but this is a team dealing with far greater issues than a kicker who had an uncharacteristically bad day.

“I think over the course of the year everyone has those moments where they’re not playing as well as they want to,” defensive end Dean Lowry said. “He’s obviously a very experienced kicker. He’s made some great kicks over the course of his career, so he’ll be fine. That’s not our worry right now. Our worry is the guys making sure we’re disciplined and being consistent for four quarters.”

The Packers have yet to manage that little trick this season and have a 2-2-1 record to show for it. Sunday’s loss showed just how widespread, not to mention familiar, the team’s problems have become. An offense that can’t carry drives all the way to the end zone. A defense that can’t prevent big plays. Special teams that can’t be trusted.

Indeed, how often does a team go an entire game without punting and still lose? How often does a team nearly double the yardage total of its opponent -- the Packers had 521 yards, the Lions 264 — and still trail by double digits almost the entire way.

That’s what the Packers did Sunday at Detroit. Another slow start led to a 24-0 halftime deficit. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, his left knee clearly affecting his play, looked human once again. The special teams were a comedy of errors that went well beyond Crosby’s misses.

“It’s ugly football,” defensive end Mike Daniels said. “Obviously, we did a lot of really good things. Then unfortunately we did just as many really bad things. We’ve got to get rid of the really bad things, that’s all there is to it.”

Gee, where have we heard that before? For the third time this season, coach Mike McCarthy did not have the Packers ready to play at the start and they had to play catch-up all day.

Green Bay fell behind Chicago 20-0 early in the third quarter before rallying to win 24-23. It fell behind Washington 28-10 at halftime before eventually losing 31-17. Against the Lions, a punt that hit blocker Kevin King gave the Lions a gift touchdown and a 60-yard pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to wide receiver Kenny Golladay set up another touchdown that gave the Lions a 14-0 lead before the end of the first quarter. By the time Crosby missed his second field goal try, the Packers already trailed 17-0.

Rodgers also contributed to the early deficit, losing two fumbles in Packers territory that led to 10 points for the Lions and either being unable to find open receivers or being slightly off-target when he did. On one play, he had wide receiver Dante Adams wide open but didn’t see him and forced a pass to another receiver that fell incomplete.

“It’s frustrating,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been kind of a one-half team: one good half and one not-so-good half. I was a little off. I missed a couple I usually hit. If I hit Davante on that first drive, he might score on a crossing route. They dropped him (in coverage). Yeah, we missed some opportunities there. Definitely a disjointed game: not punting, putting up a lot of offense and not winning the game.”

Rodgers, who threw for 301 of his 442 yards in the second half, had one chance to get the Packers back into it. With Green Bay trailing 31-20 and on the move in the fourth quarter, he hit Adams on a deep corner route at the 1-yard line. Initially ruled a catch, Adams’ 32-yard reception was correctly overturned on replay because the ball hit the ground. The Packers settled for a field goal try, which Crosby missed, and they were through for the day.

The Packers’ shaky special teams also contributed to the abysmal first half. In the first quarter alone, Crosby missed a field goal, King let the punt bounce off him that Lions recovered at the 1, King had a running-into-the-kicker penalty and a hold on Josh Jones nullified a 65-yard kickoff return by Ty Montgomery.

The biggest problem is the Packers have been making the same kinds of mistakes for five games. They start slowly and fall behind, then McCarthy abandons the run — halfback Aaron Jones had no carries in the second half — and things go from bad to worse. It’s a cycle that needs to be broken or this season could spiral out of control.

That’s why watching Crosby miss field goals wasn’t the toughest thing for the Packers to stomach.

“It’s tough to see just the whole production,” Daniels said. “We did a lot of things on defense that didn’t help us out either. I can’t just look at one guy and say, oh whatever. It’s all of us. It’s a solid team loss.”

Crosby was a part of that, but he was only a part.

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