Earlier this year, I remember reading an article about how Nate Kaeding is likely to be one of the next all-time great kickers.
Kaeding, a Pro Bowler this year, is the most accurate kicker in NFL history (with at least 100 attempts) with an 87.2 field goal percentage.
The last time the most accurate kicker in NFL history (Mike Vanderjagt) messed up in a divisional playoff game, he was run out of the league after the next season.
Kaeding does have a history of missing field goals in the playoffs. In January 2005, during Kaeding's rookie season, his 40-yard field goal attempt missed, and the Chargers lost in the wild card round, coincidentally to none other than the New York Jets.
Kaeding's postseason struggles continued in the 2006 NFL Playoffs, when he missed a game-tying 54-yard field goal attempt against the New England Patriots. He had not missed a field goal at home in the two years prior to that 54-yard attempt.
If Nate Kaeding was not such a great regular-season kicker and was instead a middle-of-the-road kicker or a journeyman like Shaun Suisham—who missed two field goals in the Cowboys' loss on Sunday—he would not be on the Chargers next year.
Lin Elliott, who made 80 percent of his field goals in 1995, missed three field goal attempts from 35, 39, and 42 yards in a 10-7 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts and never kicked in the NFL again.
Kaeding’s performance—besides showing us that kicking in the playoffs is a whole different ball game—shows us once again how great Adam Vinatieri has been.
Now, in reality, most great field goal kickers have messed up in big situations.
In 1998, Gary Anderson, who is now the second highest scorer in NFL history, converted all 35 of his attempted field goals and all 59 extra points in regular season play, becoming the first placekicker to finish the regular season with a 100 percent success rate on both field goals and extra points.
With the Vikings leading 27-20 with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter of the NFC Conference Championship Game, Anderson lined up for a 38-yard field goal to give them a two-possession lead but missed, which ultimately cost them the game.
However, my problem with Kaeding today is that he showed a lack of composure. Half of kicking field goals is all confidence. Despite Anderson missing such an important field goal, it wouldn’t have likely affected his next kick, and that’s why he kicked for so many years. Kaeding showed today that besides not being able to come up big in the playoffs, he let previous misses affect his next kicks.
I can’t remember another Pro Bowl kicker going 0-for-3 in a playoff game. Throughout the history of the NFL, kickers who seemed as though they were going to last a long time lost their composure when kicking field goals and got run out of the NFL.
Nick Folk, who had an accuracy percentage of 83.9 and 90.9 his first two seasons in the NFL, was cut by the Cowboys this year because of his 64.3 percent accuracy. Now Folk didn’t physically become a bad field goal kicker, but like most kickers, he mentally did. How many times do good kickers have one bad season and never recover? Even if Folk gets another chance by someone else, it's unlikely he’s going to last in the NFL.
Another player that comes to my mind is Martin Gramática, who won a Super Bowl in 2003 and had accuracy percentages of 84.4, 82.4, 79.3, and 82.1 over his first four years in the league. It seemed as though he was going to last a long time until his 61.5 percent percentage in his fifth season. Unfortunately Gramática never recovered from that.
Now technically, Kaeding didn’t have a bad season, because he made the Pro Bowl, but in reality, I doubt anyone would consider Kaeding to have had a successful season now.
Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history at the time, missed the game-winning field goal against the Steelers in the 2006 divisional round; he didn't have a bad regular season either. Even so, I wouldn't have predicted him to be out of the league in a year, because we never got to see how his costly miss would affect his next kick.
Kaeding, on the other hand, has already showed that he let his previous misses affect his next kick. That's why I’m going to predict right now that Kaeding does not have a good season next year, and who knows where his career could go from there?
Although Kaeding did recover from his two previous missed playoff field goals, it’s not even close to the same situation as this year.
Even though Kaeding missed a game-winning field goal his rookie year, the opposing kicker Doug Brien missed three important field goals that allowed Kaeding to even have an attempt, which made Kaeding look a lot better. In 2006, I don’t think many people could have expected him to hit that 54-yard field goal.
Therefore, Kaeding didn’t really get the blame for those two losses like he is getting from everyone after this one.
Once again, Kaeding has showed us that sometimes we do anoint kickers as being great too early. Despite my hunch, the truth is that I don’t know how Kaeding is going to respond. He could shake it off and have a fantastic regular season.
However, either way, I guarantee you the next time he lines up for a kick in the playoffs, most Charger fans aren’t going to be comfortable in their seats.