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Kicker Crosby back on sure footing with Packers

AP - Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- From being on unsure footing to returning to the top of his game, Mason Crosby has had quite the ride this season with the Packers.

Field-goal tries are no longer a fingernail-biting, roller-coaster ride in Green Bay. That was so 2012.

Crosby was selected the NFL special teams player of the month this week after leading the league with 50 points and 13 field goals in October, when the Packers went 4-0. He's s a reliable option again heading into the divisional showdown Monday night against the Chicago Bears.

''I think it says something about his resolve, his work ethic - about his ability to overcome adversity,'' special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said Friday when asked about the accolades for the seventh-year kicker.

Times were tough after Crosby made just 21 of 33 field-goal attempts last season for a league-worst 63.6 percent success rate. Coach Mike McCarthy brought in Giorgio Tavecchio and rookie Zach Ramirez during training camp - bringing in Ramirez in the last week of camp - but Crosby outlasted them both.

Now, he's 17 of 19 for an 89.5 percent success rate. Crosby was 13 of 15 in October, with his two misses coming from 44 and 52 yards.

McCarthy said this week that once Crosby won the job out of camp, he had no concerns. There's a history with Crosby, McCarthy said.

''He went through a tough spot. I believed in the man, I believed in his ability,'' McCarthy said. ''It was more of a mental tough spot that he was going through. I think what we put him through from a competitive standpoint in training camp I think it's good for all of us. And he responded.''

What's more, Crosby has been saving drives with the offense sputtering at times in or near the red zone. Crosby is 10 of 10 from inside the 40.

There doesn't seem to be any big differences in terms of preparation or mechanics. The focus midweek is on getting ''quality reps,'' he said, and trying not to over-kick. Too many practice kicks might lead to fatigue.

''I'm making sure my mindset is, in practice, that I need to make these kicks, focused in on almost trying to put myself in (game) situations. I think that's really been helpful,'' Crosby said.

Winning the kicking race in the preseason may have given him an edge, too. He said ''that competition in camp and different things have really taken me to a different level, and I feel solid.''

And he's just enjoying the job. Success breeds confidence. Slocum said Crosby ''is in a good place with his rhythm and mechanics.''

''I think success is more fun, and just leave it at that,'' Slocum said.

More concerning of late on special teams has been kickoff return coverage. Cordarrelle Patterson had a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week for the Vikings during Green Bay's 44-31 win. The Browns returned four kicks for 189 yards two weeks ago, while the Browns had four returns for 102 yards on Oct. 13.

Injuries may be partly to blame for the spotty coverage. There's a trickle-down effect to special teams, when players formerly second- or third-teamers are thrust into more prominent roles on offense or defense. They might be replaced on coverage teams with new signees or additions off the practice squad.

Slowly, the Packers are starting to get players healthy. This week, inside linebacker Brad Jones has been a full participant after missing a few weeks with a hamstring injury. McCarthy is also optimistic about the chances of tight end Ryan Taylor playing Sunday after missing a few weeks with a knee injury.

Just in time with Bears returner Devin Hester, who excels at scoring touchdowns, up next.

Also Friday, receiver James Jones (knee) practiced in pads on a limited basis. Jones, who has missed the last two games, will be re-evaluated Saturday.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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