NFL Playoffs Crucial For Kickers, Not Just Quarterbacks and Coaches

Josh WetmoreCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2010

DENVER - NOVEMBER 22:  Nate Kaeding #10 of the San Diego Chargers kicks a field goal from the hold of Mike Scifres #5 against the Denver Broncos during NFL action at Invesco Field at Mile High on November 22, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. Kaeding made four field goals on four attempts as the Chargers defeated the Broncos 32-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Nothing can kill a quarterback's legacy faster than choking in the playoffs.

Nothing gets a good coach fired quite like postseason failure.

And apparently there's one more person on the team whose career hinges on his playoff performance: the kicker.

Plenty of kickers' promising careers have been absolutely ruined by one or two misses at the wrong time. Scott Norwood and Mike Vanderjagt were both some of the best kickers in the NFL before their respective season-ending misses.

Norwood is now a real estate salesman and Vanderjagt just might be a drunk in a Toronto trailer park.

With the potential to kill an entire career, there is no more pressure-packed play in all of sports than a playoff game winning field goal. This pressure makes kicking more about mindset than physical skills.

This year's playoffs provides a perfect example of how difficult it is to be a good playoff kicker than a regular season kicker.

During the regular season, NFL kickers combined, made 81.6 percent of their field goal attempts; however, during the playoffs, a group of solidified starters combined to make only 57.7 percent of their attempts.

Most of these playoff misses weren't on the edge of field goal range either.

Cincinnati Bengals kicker Shayne Graham missed two kicks from inside 40 yards during the first round of the playoffs including a crucial 28-yard attempt that would've put the game within one score.

Also, the San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding—the most accurate kicker in the NFL this year—missed all three of his field goal attempts against the Jets in the second round.

On the NFC side of the playoffs, both Mason Crosby and Neil Rackers, two solidified starting kickers in the league, made 50 percent or less of their playoffs attempts.

So should Graham, Kaeding, Rackers, and Crosby be scared for their jobs?

Quite possibly yes, especially when considering that only Rackers' Cardinals advanced past their first playoff game. Simply put: If a team thinks they lost because of their kicker, they aren't going to keep him.

Doug Brien of the New York Jets can attest to that after missing two potential game-winning kicks against the Steelers in 2004. After the game, he was fired and the Jets proceeded to spend their first 2005 draft pick on Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent.

Likewise, the Colts fired Vanderjagt after his miss against the Steelers and signed the greatest playoff kicker of all time, Adam Vinatieri.

The Colts won the Super Bowl the next year.

So next time the media starts to discuss just how much pressure either Brett Favre or Brad Childress are under to win the big one, think about Ryan Longwell instead and where his paycheck will come from next year if he misses that one big kick.