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PACKERS

Hoping to avoid kicking themselves in the playoffs, Packers work to repair troublesome field-goal operation for stretch run

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packers photo 11-30

Packers kicker Mason Crosby celebrates after one of his two first-half field goals Sunday. He made another in the third quarter.

GREEN BAY — Somebody left one of the double doors to the Don Hutson Center ajar during practice last week, so while the Green Bay Packers’ offense and defense went through their paces at practice out on Clarke Hinkle Field, Maurice Drayton could be seen — and heard — working through the field-goal kicking operation with long-snapper Steven Wirtel, holder Corey Bojorquez and kicker Mason Crosby.

For Drayton, the Packers first-year special-teams coordinator, the unit’s struggles — with a miss from 42 yards that clanged off the left upright with 3 minutes, 5 seconds left in the Packers’ 36-28 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at Lambeau Field, the group has now missed nine field goal attempts this season (including two that were blocked) — are easily the most vexing aspect of a special teams group that also has contributed next to nothing in the return game.

That’s why Drayton, Wirtel, Bojorquez and Crosby were working overtime in a back corner of the Hutson Center on snaps and holds last week in hopes of fine-tuning an operation that demands precision. And that’s why Drayton will spend the bye week — while the players are off until next Monday — trying to conjure up ways to prevent the nightmare scenario of the kicking game costing the Packers in a win-or-go-home postseason matchup six weeks from now.

“We are encouraged. I physically see the operation getting better,” Drayton said earlier this week as the coaches began their self-scouting process, which continued Tuesday. “It’s never OK to miss a kick. We all know that, we understand that. But there are improvements that we can physically see. It’s going to yield results. It is yielding results.

“You’re supposed to celebrate every win because they’re hard to come by in the National Football League, but that last kick, it just dug at me a little bit. I really couldn’t celebrate the way I wanted to. But we’re going to get it.”

Crosby made his first three field goal attempts (from 45, 28 and 29 yards) and all three of his 33-yard extra points before the fourth-quarter miss.

And to be fair, Drayton said the wind was the most challenging of the season on Sunday, calling it “horrific” and “tricky” and describing it as “definitely a Lambeau wind.” But if the miss at the end of the game had been an anomaly, it wouldn’t have garnered any attention.

After all, there had been an encouraging sign the previous week in a 34-31 loss at Minnesota, too, as the place-kicking operation delivered the Packers’ first points on a 54-yard field goal — Crosby’s longest of the season. But then he doinked a 32-yarder off the left upright during the second quarter, and the Packers wound up losing by three points.

For the season, Crosby has made only 18 of 27 attempts after going a perfect 16-for-16 last season and making 22 of 24 attempts in 2019. He’s now missed as many attempts this year — with five games left to play, starting with a Dec. 12 post-bye matchup with the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field — as he missed in the previous three seasons combined.

Those struggles have come in part because the Packers upgraded at punter, acquiring Bojorquez from the Rams to replace inconsistent JK Scott at the end of training camp, then replaced long-snapper Hunter Bradley with Wirtel on Nov. 3. Wirtel had been on the practice squad since being released by Rams at the end of camp.

The last time Crosby endured a full-scale replacement of the kicking operation was in 2018, when general manager Brian Gutekunst drafted Scott (fifth round) and Bradley (seventh round). The results were somewhat predictable: Crosby finished the year 30 of 37 on field goal attempts, and his 49-yard miss as time expired — on a kick that would have forced overtime — on Dec. 2, 2018, resulted in a 20-17 loss and then-coach Mike McCarthy getting fired roughly a half-hour after his miss.

Drayton, who was an assistant special teams coach under then-coordinator Ron Zook at the time, said he and Crosby have gone back into the archives to examine how they approached the adjustment Crosby had to make to Scott and Bradley in hopes of applying some of those lessons to this year’s issues.

Campbell on reserve/COVID-19 list

Inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who has been a godsend to the defense after signing off the street in June, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. NFL Network reported Campbell tested positive for COVID-19.

While Campbell’s current vaccination status is unclear, he conducted media interviews earlier in the season via Zoom videoconference, an indication he was unvaccinated. If that remains the case, he would be required to quarantine for the next 10 days, which because of the bye week would still give him a chance to play against the Bears on Dec. 12 if he is asymptomatic by then and fulfills all the requirements of the ramp-up exertion period.

If Campbell is vaccinated, he’d be able to return as soon as he produced two negative tests 24 hours apart.

COVID-19 hit the Packers harder during the month of November than it had at any point since the pandemic began, as quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Benkert, cornerback Isaac Yiadom, outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin and Campbell tested positive. Before that, only four players total had tested positive: Inside linebacker Ray Wilborn in July, defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster in September and wide receivers Malik Taylor and Davante Adams in October.

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