As the Saints escape yet another close call in their quest for perfection, one weakness remains brutally apparent. Their kicking game is “no good”.
With the league’s best offense it’s easy to overlook a mediocre kicking team, but history indicates that at some point Sean Payton will find himself relying on an untested kicking unit.
So far this year he has coddled them, attempting only a handful of field goals over 40 yards, of which only two have been successful.
Kicker Garrett Hartley, activated last week to replace a struggling John Carney, has gone six of seven on field goals so far this year, but he is unproven on the big stage and has yet to make a field goal of over 50 yards.
One can point out his career 17/18 mark, but that stat is a bit misleading as only four of them have been over 40 yards.
Also the mental aspect of kicking is immeasurable. It’s hard to say how someone will respond to the pressure of a game winning kick in a playoff game.
It became clear in Washington that Payton doesn't trust his kicker. Repeatedly he inched closer, visibly uneasy about attempting even a short field goal.
He confirmed this in Atlanta by attempted a fake field goal from the Atlanta 20-yard line on 4th-and-7, when leading by three.
After months of practice and hundreds of meaningful plays, it's a common theme to see kickers determining the outcome of a season.
Saints fans know this from personal experience. It wasn’t too long ago that the River City Miracle went from play of the decade to cruelest joke of the century, eliminating them from playoff contention. In only two games, Hartley has already missed an extra point.
In Superbowl XXV Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal that would have given the Bills their first win ever. Instead it was wide right, costing them the first of four consecutive Super Bowls. Only one time has Hartley connected from that long in his career.
Most recently, in Superbowl XLI, the undefeated Patriots held a 7-3 lead on 4th-and-13 from the Giants' 31. They opted to go for it rather than attempt a 48-yard field goal with unproven second year pro, Steven Gostkowski.
Had they retained Adam Vinetieri it’s likely they would have opted to kick. The decision would wind up to haunt them as they lost 17-14, ruining their bid for perfection.
With the playoffs approaching, the Saint are going to find themselves in some close games. Only time will tell if a kicker determines their fate.