CINCINNATI -- These are the moments kickers dream of.
Game on the line, clock running down, the opportunity for victory resting on their ability to deliver in the waning minutes or seconds.
Mason Crosby is one of those kickers, but never did the 15-year veteran expect to receive four such opportunities … in the same game!
If that sounds crazy, it only partially tells the story of an afternoon during which Crosby experienced the joy of setting a franchise record for field-goal efficiency; the pain of missing three consecutive attempts near the end of regulation and the start of overtime, two of which could have been walk-offs; and the relief of finally coming through with the decisive 49-yarder with 1 minute, 55 seconds to go in overtime, giving the Packers a 25-22 victory over the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium.
When it was over and the ball sailed through the uprights, Crosby turned to the sideline and shrugged. The reaction seemed fitting in that it brought relief more than excitement for Crosby, who's the first kicker since Billy Cundiff in 2012 to convert a game-winner with 10 seconds or less remaining in regulation or in overtime after missing his previous three attempts.
"That was a crazy end to the game," Crosby said. "The fact that we kept getting opportunities, you have to give it up to our team the way we fought there. I wanted badly to come through."
Crosby, who also missed an extra point, was not alone in his struggles. Bengals kicker Evan McPherson missed his only two attempts: a 57-yarder that hit the right upright with 21 seconds remaining in regulation and a 49-yarder that was wide left with 4:14 left in overtime. McPherson initially thought he had made the second and leaped into the arms of holder Kevin Huber, only to have the officials rule the kick was wide.
"I struck it very well and I saw it going right down the middle," McPherson said. "I guess you could say I know whenever it's going to go in, and that was one of those moments. … Maybe a big gust of wind caught it there at the last second."
The miss not only marked just the second time since 1970 that four potential go-ahead kicks were missed in the fourth quarter or overtime -- the other was the Giants-Cardinals game in 1983 when Ali Haji-Sheikh missed one as time expired in regulation and Neil O'Donoghue missed three in OT -- but it also prolonged an afternoon that left players, coaches and fans physically and emotionally exhausted.
At least four times the game appeared to be over: first, when Crosby missed from 36 yards with 2:16 to go in regulation, then when McPherson missed from 57 with 26 seconds left, then when Crosby missed from 51 with 3 ticks on the clock. The wild ride continued into overtime where following De'Vondre Campbell's interception of Joe Burrow on the first snap, Crosby missed from 40 yards, then McPherson missed from 49. That ultimately set the stage for the Packers' decisive drive.
They took over at their 39 and quickly moved into Bengals territory after Aaron Rodgers found Marcedes Lewis for 20 yards and Randall Cobb for 15 yards more on third-and-16. Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates III was injured on the play, which gave Packers coach Matt LaFleur time to walk to Crosby near the kicking net before deciding whether to attempt the field goal or keep the offense on the field.
"Hey, what do you think?'" LaFleur said.
"I got this," Crosby answered.
"I could see the look in his eyes," LaFleur said. "There was zero flinch."
Crosby, who had set a franchise record with his 27th consecutive make earlier in the afternoon, had missed four attempts in a game only once in his career: Oct. 7, 2018 against the Lions. Since then he had been one of the league's more dependable specialists, converting on 63 of 67 attempts entering Sunday. He may have been understated following the win, but his teammates were not.
"That was a fun one," said Rodgers, who was 27 of 39 for 344 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. "You're hugging guys who you might not even know first and last names sometimes. It's fun to bring together a group like that."
Green Bay, which has won four in a row since losing its opener to New Orleans, was down three starting offensive linemen and All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander. At times, the line struggled with the Cincinnati pass rush, but overall, it held up well enough for Rodgers to find Davante Adams 11 times for 206 yards and a touchdown.
"I told at least three people outside of the building -- my cousins and my wife -- I told them I felt like this would be my career high today," Adams said. "Either I'm clairvoyant or I know what I'm talking about."
For a time, it appeared he might be upstaged by Ja'Marr Chase, Cincinnati's rookie receiver. The former LSU star had six receptions for 159 yards and a touchdown, which covered 70 yards. Burrow, who was 26 of 38 for 281 yards and two scores, with two interceptions, repeatedly looked to him in big moments, and Chase delivered. The pair is as big a reason to be optimistic about the Bengals (3-2) going forward as anything.
The team simply lacked the firepower to keep pace in previous years, and there seemed to be a hope to win rather than an expectation to win. But this team has a resilience that recent others lacked.
"They're not the old Bengals that everybody expects to roll over," Adams said. "They have a really good offense and guys on defense that can go make plays."
There is a moxie about the group. These Bengals convert fourth downs that lead to touchdowns, and tied the game with a conversion pass with 3:27 to go in regulation. But they also are still learning to avoid mistakes, like a holding call at the end of the third quarter that negated a first down and took them out of field-goal range. Or the miscommunication in the secondary that contributed to several big plays, including Adams' long gainer.
"I know exactly what kind of football team we have now," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. "If there's any questions about what type of fight we have, what type of energy we have, what type of love we have for each other, I know that the people who were at the game today, the people who are watching on TV, they should be proud of this team. It will come down to some last-second plays, and sometimes we'll make them and sometimes we won't."
Or, as Adams said: "When you're a kicker, and it's your sole responsibility, it's tough. It's tough to come back after making a few mistakes. All that matters is the last one."