Han­dling the psy­che of NFL kick­ers a spe­cial­ized dance

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

RENTON: The af­ter­math of the first NFL tie since 2014 be­came a study in the del­i­cate psy­che of kick­ers, and how they are han­dled by their coaches. Last Sun­day’s 6-6 tie be­tween Seat­tle and Ari­zona was re­mark­able from many as­pects. One of the last­ing mem­o­ries were the re­ac­tions from Ari­zona coach Bruce Ari­ans and Seat­tle coach Pete Car­roll to a pair of short missed field goals in over­time that could have won the game for ei­ther team.

Ari­zona’s Chan­dler Catan­zaro had a 24-yard field goal clang off the left up­right, and min­utes later Seat­tle’s Steve Hauschka pulled a 28-yard at­tempt wide left . Then came the re­ac­tions, and a study in how two coaches seek­ing the same goal took dif­fer­ing tones. Ari­ans was gruff, Car­roll was sup­port­ive. Ari­ans on Catan­zaro: “Make it. This is pro­fes­sional, this ain’t high school, baby. You get paid to make it.”

Car­roll on Hauschka: “He made his kicks to give us a chance, and un­for­tu­nately he didn’t make the last one. He’s been mak­ing kicks for years around here ... but he’s gonna hit a lot of win­ners as we go down the road here. I love him and he’s our guy.” Two di­ver­gent re­ac­tions, all with the same goal of get­ting their kick­ers to be bet­ter. “It means a lot to me,” Hauschka said this week. “Coach is in­cred­i­ble. He is the rea­son that this team is so good and why this whole at­mos­phere up here in Seat­tle is so pos­i­tive. And it all starts with him. I couldn’t ask for a bet­ter head coach.”

Spe­cific skill

With such a unique role on the team, and such a spe­cific skill in stark con­trast to the rest of the ros­ter, kick­ers re­ally only have their peers who can re­late to their highly vis­i­ble and deeply scru­ti­nized mis­takes. How coaches han­dle those mis­takes can be all over the spec­trum. Back in 2009, then-Seat­tle coach Jim Mora un­loaded on kicker Olindo Mare im­me­di­ately af­ter he missed 34and 43-yard field goals in a 29-25 loss to Chicago.

“We’re not go­ing to fight our (tails) off, and have a field goal kicker go out there and miss two field goals and lose a game. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen,” Mora said. A day later, Mora apol­o­gized for his harsh as­sess­ment. There was no such re­cant­ing from Ari­ans. Catan­zaro was al­ready draw­ing the ire of his head coach be­fore his over­time miss Sun­day. A bad snap helped lead to Catan­zaro’s missed field goal that would have beaten New Eng­land in the sea­son opener. And while Ari­ans said he still fully sup­ports Catan­zaro, he ex­pressed it in an acer­bic way. “The kicker just needs to kick it through the two poles and we’d be 5-2,” he said.

Min­nesota’s Blair Walsh didn’t watch the game Sun­day night, but he sure knew how Catan­zaro and Hauschka were feel­ing after­ward. Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal last Jan­uary that kept the Vik­ings from beat­ing the Sea­hawks in the first round of the play­offs. “Those are two great kick­ers, and they’ll be fine,” Walsh said. “I know both of those guys will have great years, and they shouldn’t worry.” The fra­ter­nity of kick­ers is tight. Catan­zaro had a sim­i­lar re­ac­tion af­ter see­ing Hauschka miss.

“I never pull for an­other kicker to miss,” Catan­zaro said. “It was tough. My re­ac­tion the other night, I wanted an­other shot to win it for the team be­cause they de­served for me to put that through. But I hated to see Hauschka go out there and miss it. He’s a great kicker and he’ll come back from it.” Be­ing a kicker puts them in a glar­ing spot­light. Walsh knows that all too well.

He also missed two field goals and an ex­tra point in the Vik­ings’ sea­son opener, shanked an­other ex­tra point two weeks later, and missed an­other field goal the game af­ter that. The Vik­ings won all of those games com­fort­ably, but they’ve clearly lost some pa­tience. “We need to make those, or it’s go­ing to bite us in the rear end,” coach Mike Zimmer said af­ter Walsh’s last miss on Oct 3. Zimmer’s public stance on sup­port­ing Walsh has fallen some­where be­tween the re­ac­tions of Car­roll and Ari­ans, though tilt­ing more to­ward Ari­ans lately. “We’re go­ing to need Blair down the stretch and need him to play well for us,” spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor Mike Priefer said, “and hope­fully that’s what he’ll do.” —

AFP

MINNEAPOLIS: This file photo taken on Oc­to­ber 2, 2016 shows Josh Brown #3 of the New York Giants as he con­verts a field goal at the end of the first half of the game against the Min­nesota Vik­ings at US Bank Sta­dium. —

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