These Kickers Just Could Not
6:04 PM EDT on October 10, 2021
When the Packers and Bengals headed to overtime tied 22-22, it was Mason Crosby, Green Bay’s kicker, who went out to represent his team for the coin toss. At that point, Crosby had already missed two shots at the game-winner, trading excruciating misses with Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson. Crosby missed first from 36 yards with two minutes left, then McPherson missed from 57 yards with 26 seconds, and then Crosby missed again from 51 yards with three seconds on the clock. He’d also missed an extra point in the second quarter.
Crosby has been kicking in Green Bay since 2007, and he’s one of the most reliable kickers in the league. Last season, he didn't miss a single field goal, hitting every single one of his 20 kicks. But every few years, Crosby seems to experience a complete and total breakdown game, where everything goes wrong and just gets worse. His last breakdown was in 2018 when he missed four field goals in a loss at Detroit.
Continuing the day's trend, Crosby promptly lost the coin toss, and the Bengals got the ball to start overtime. But the weird juju in this game continued, and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow’s first pass sailed straight into the hands of Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers got the ball back at the Bengals' 30-yard-line. Surely, this game was safely in Green Bay’s hands now. The next score would win, and they were already in field goal range. But then running back Aaron Jones lost five yards on the next two carries, and on third down, Matt LaFleur elected to kick a 40-yard field goal, a decision that might have seemed like the safe choice on any other day or any other game. But this game was not normal. This game did not exist to end gracefully with a made field goal.
Here came Crosby again, jogging out for his fifth field goal attempt since halftime. He’d hit two and missed two. This was his third chance to put this game away at a reasonable range. Surely he could not fail this time. Wrong! Crosby drilled the ball wide left again!
Burrow and the Bengals were now somehow exonerated from what should have been a game-costing interception, and five plays later, the Bengals were back in field-goal range. McPherson lined up for a 49-yard attempt and was so confident with himself that he celebrated as his ball sailed towards the left upright. He hugged his holder, thinking he’d made his second game-winning kick in overtime this season. But no! The football hit the flag at the top of the post and was just outside. No good.
With four minutes left in overtime, there was still plenty of time for Crosby to get his fourth chance to win this game.
Rodgers found Marcedes Lewis down the right sideline for 20 yards, and then lost momentum with a negative rush and a sack. On third and 16, Rodgers found Randall Cobb for 15 yards, almost but not quite enough for a first down. On fourth and inches, with two minutes left, LaFleur decided to give the ball back to the kicker who had missed wide left three times since halftime.
Now, you might wonder, why not go for it there? Why not try to score an actual touchdown, since the kickers were malfunctioning and there was enough time to do so? LaFleur told reporters after the game that he did consider the possibility, but instead asked his kicker for his thoughts. LaFleur said Crosby told him, “I’ve got this.” It was a John Harbaugh–Lamar Jackson trust-me moment, just without any actual reason for that trust.
From 49 yards, Crosby finally made it.
They say to never give Aaron Rodgers the ball with too much time left on the clock. They may also need to start saying never give Mason Crosby four tries to win a game. That’s just not good coaching.