Being a placekicker in the NFL is a strange job. You’re pretty much either a hero, or a goat. There is no in between. And if a kicker becomes a hero, it is quickly forgotten and credited to the quarterback who got him in the position to kick it.
It used to be that positional players would double as kickers. But as the two-way player ended, new breeds of “athletes” entered the league. They have strange names, some cannot speak English, and some kick without socks (although those are a dying breed).
No one ever acknowledges how tough it can be to kick a ball through goal posts. Since they don’t play any other times during the game, their value is underestimated. Bill Parcells once said of a hurt Matt Bahr “He doesn’t have to play. All he has to do is kick.” A kicker is not viewed as someone who can make a team great. But he certainly is someone who can break a team.
Since kickers don’t really have to run or hit or even barely get off the bench, most can and do play through their forties. Although they may not work as hard as others, a foot and a leg are still body parts that can get old. Some just are inconsistent and don’t make enough to last past their twenties let alone into their forties. This season has seen many examples of such.
Let’s start with this week’s nappy-headed-ho of the week and the kicker who’s missed two potential game tying kicks in less than a month. Kris Brown, kicker for the Houston Texans, is the only “player” to suit up for every game in team history. But after constantly missing kicks, including two 49-yarders Monday night, he might go the way of the old Houston team, the Oilers.
John Carney is going through a second stint with the New Orleans Saints, which isn’t very unusual. Since kickers can play so long, they often run out of teams and need to go back around. Carney went to the Pro Bowl last season as a member of the Giants mostly due to the team’s frequent scoring and extra point opportunities. But when the team needed him in the cold in the playoffs, he could not deliver.
This season is almost identical. The Saints offense is not stalling and all they really need is someone to kick the extra points. Carney has not cost his team a game yet, but he has missed extra points, and some chip shots. Being a dome kicker, watch out for when he is forced to go outdoors.
Jason Elam is a legend. Okay, for kickers, he’s a legend. He has two Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos, and tied a league record with a 63 yard field goal, doing it without a boot like his counterpart, Tom Dempsey. But this season, as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, Elam has been shaky at best. He’s missed chip shots and with that goatee, definitely does not look like himself. After losing to the Giants in overtime this past weekend, you can’t help but notice that, had he made all his kicks, there wouldn’t have been an overtime.
Elam’s counterpart this past weekend, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, gained notoriety for kicking the Giants to the Super Bowl two years ago. People choose to forget he missed two others in that game, and sat out all of last season due to an “injury.” He hasn’t blown any games yet, mostly because Eli Manning has engineered some great drives to give him second and third chances to redeem himself. But he has missed some easy kicks, and like Elam, had he made all his kicks, there wouldn’t have been an overtime. As a Giants fan, I think I speak for us all when I say that whenever I see Tynes lined up to kick, I have to cross my fingers and sometimes avert my eyes.
Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham accounted for all of the scoring of his team this Sunday, but missed two kicks and his team wound up on the losing end of a one point game. For a team that has had quarterback, and now injured running back, problems, to have a kicker steal the show as its Achilles heel is an accomplishment.
Even kickers David Akers and Adam Vinatieri, who have had their own jerseys worn by fans, have struggled at times. Akers in particular missed two kicks in a game in Oakland that would have won the game. And Vinatieri has suffered an injury and been replaced by Matt Stover.
Stover’s former team, the Ravens, have been the only team to take action in changing their kickers, by replacing the man hired to replace Stover in Steven Hauschka. But as more kicks sail right and other forty year old kickers decide they want back in the game, who could be next?