Former Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson used to refer to the NFL as a “big boy league.”
The Packers operated like they were a little league outfit in recent weeks when it came to kicker Anders Carlson.
Carlson, a rookie from Auburn, was the most unreliable kicker in the NFL this season. As Green Bay’s surprising season continued, it had every opportunity to bring in a veteran to replace Carlson.
Instead, the Packers chose to stick with Carlson, and the results were predictable.
With Green Bay leading, 21-17, over heavily-favored San Francisco in the NFC divisional playoffs Saturday night, Carlson sent a 41-yard field goal wide left. The 49ers then drove 69 yards and won the game when Christian McCaffrey ripped off a 6-yard touchdown with 1:07 left.
Carlson missed at least one kick in his final five games and 10 of his last 12 contests. Afterwards, Packers coach Matt LaFleur had no answers for Carlson’s season-long struggles.
“I think if we had the answer we would have fixed it, right,” LaFleur said. “So, certainly just got to work on the consistency. We’ve seen him do it. We know what he’s capable (of), but you’ve got to be consistent in order to last in this league.”
There were many reasons the Packers lost to the 49ers for a fifth straight time in the postseason.
Darnell Savage dropped a sure-fire, pick-six early in the contest. Jordan Love threw two extremely costly interceptions in the final 17 minutes. And Green Bay’s three trips into the red zone in the first half netted just six points.
But the Carlson problem could have been fixed weeks ago — and even in the week leading up to the San Francisco game. But the Packers stuck their collective head in the sand and somehow hoped the problem would disappear.
Green Bay special teams coordinator Rich Bissacia didn’t want to talk about Carlson’s woes last week.
“We’re onto the next game in San Francisco,” Bisaccia said on Jan. 17. “And whatever happened in the last game happened, we’ve looked at it, hopefully corrected it, and we’re moving forward.”
LaFleur said the Packers weren’t entertaining the idea of replacing Carlson.
“We’re committed to him,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said stubbornly. “And we’re going to see this thing through.”
The real question is why?
Kicker is one of the few positions in football where you can find a veteran on the street late in the year that can improve your team.
Mason Crosby, the leading scorer in Green Bay history, had his contract with the New York Giants end on Jan. 14. Robbie Gould, an all-time Packer killer, announced his retirement on Dec. 7, but might have been lured back to the game to chase his first-ever Super Bowl ring.
Instead, Green Bay doubled down on a player that missed 13 kicks in 2023 — more than anyone in football.
Carlson ranked 23rd in the league in field goal percentage during the regular season, going 27-of-33 (81.8%). He then went 2-of-3 in the postseason and finished the year 29-of-36 (80.6%).
Carlson also ranked 29th in extra point percentage during the regular season, going 34-of-39 (87.2%). He then made 7-of-8 extra points in the playoffs and finished the season 41-of-47 on extra points (87.2%).
No other kicker in football missed more than three extra points.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Anders,” Bisaccia, the NFL’s highest paid special teams coordinator, proclaimed last week.
Again, the question was why?
Carlson, a sixth round draft pick out of Auburn last April, was remarkably inconsistent as a collegian before he ever arrived in Green Bay.
Carlson made just 71.8% of his field goals at Auburn (79 of 110). He went 5-of-17 from 50-plus yards (29.4%) and 25-of-39 between 40 and 49 yards (64.1%).
Carlson has a cannon for a leg and a steady demeanor — two qualities the Packers loved. But he was as inconsistent as a 1990s internet connection in college and throughout his rookie season.
Green Bay went cheap at kicker, punter and several other positions this season, trying to get their financial house in order in what most believed would be a rebuilding season.
When the Packers reached the divisional playoffs, though, they owed it to the other 52 men on the team to fix a problem that was easily fixable.
Instead, they ignored it, which is a huge reason their year is now finished.