Handling the psyche of NFL kickers a specialized dance
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.”
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.” —
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. —