Graham Gano, the latest in a long line of mediocre kickers for the Washington Redskins, missed 2-of-3 field goals in a 27-24 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at FedEx Field.
Dan Bailey kicked a 39-yard field goal to give the Cowboys the win in overtime.
Rex Grossman led Washington on an 89-yard drive capped off by a 4-yard touchdown pass to Donte Stallworth to tie the score at 24 with 14 seconds left. Grossman had one of his better outings, connecting on 25-of-38 passes for 289 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. Grossman also rushed for a touchdown.
Jabar Gaffney contributed a strong effort for Washington with seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Redskins' overrated bend and break defense allowed Tony Romo to throw for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
Gano could have won the game with a 52-yard kick in overtime, but the kick sailed to the right. In the third quarter, with the Redskins up 17-10, Gano missed a 49-yarder. Both misses were long field goals, but the fact is that Gano has been the most inconsistent kicker in the NFL during his short two-year career.
Much of the blame for the Redskins’ six-game losing streak will be again focused on the play of the quarterbacks, running game and play-calling, and rightfully so. But the Redskins’ kicking game is once again among the worst in the NFL.
The Redskins have had six key offensive players injured for parts of the season, and three starters are out for the year. Still, if the Redskins had a better kicker, they might have another two wins.
Gano has made just 16-of-24 kicks in 2011, a rate of less than 67 percent, good for 31st in the NFL. Only Jay Feely of Arizona is making kicks at a lower rate than Gano.
Three of Gano’s kicks have been blocked, so Gano doesn’t deserve all the blame, although on at least one of the blocks his kick may have been too low.
Gano made just 3-of-5 kicks last week in a 20-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Although the two he missed were long ones—49 and 50 yards—NFL kickers get paid to put the ball through the uprights. A field goal or two can change the complexion of a game.
Last year, Gano was 24-of-35, making 69 percent of his field goals. No one in the NFL was worse. Gano was just 4-of-7 on field goals between 30 and 39 yards. Gano’s 19 misses in the last two years are more than any other kicker.
In fairness, Gano did kick a Redskins record 59-yard field goal against San Francisco. And Gano’s kickoffs are consistently deep. But NFL kickers now make kicks at an amazingly high rate, and Gano’s record over his two-year career is at or near the bottom of the league.
The average NFL kicker makes nearly 85 percent of his kicks, and going into Sunday’s action, nine kickers have made more than 90 percent of their kicks.
It’s true that Gano made a 34-yard field goal to beat the Arizona Cardinals 22-21 earlier this year. But with a better kicker the Redskins might be 5-5 and still alive in the playoff race instead of 3-7.
In 2010, Gano kicked a game-winning 33-yard field goal in overtime to give Washington a 16-13 win over Green Bay. But last year against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gano missed two field goals that any high school kicker should make. Either of the chip shot field goals Gano missed, a 24- and a 34-yarder, would have given the Redskins enough points to win a game that they lost 17-16.
In 2010, Gano missed a potential 52-yard game-winning field goal against the Houston Texans in overtime and the Redskins lost 30-27. He also missed a 48-yarder in a game the Redskins lost to the Indianapolis Colts 27-24.
Bottom line, even with all the turmoil and inconsistency the Redskins have undergone since the 1990s, the Redskins would have been significantly better with kickers who were good or even average instead of bad.
The Redskins have had some of the worst kickers in the NFL during the Dan Snyder era, a time when NFL teams have been so close in talent that special teams can make a huge difference. Kick returner Brandon Banks, a bright spot in 2010, has been merely average this year, though he had several good returns against the Cowboys.
At least punter Sav Rocca has a net average of 41 yards per punt, good for ninth in the league. But overall, Redskins special teams have been mediocre, and even bad for most of the past 15 seasons.
This inattention to detail has been symbolic of a franchise that was once known for its blue-collar work ethic, but has ignored special teams.
With so much focus on free agent busts, uneven quarterback play and a lack of continuity over the last decade, it’s easy to forget that Washington’s kickers have been, for the most part, forgettable, and some of them have been awful.
Consider that the Redskins’ average record has been between 6-10 and 7-9 since Snyder took over the team in 1999. If Washington had even above average special teams, or even just good kickers, that average record might be closer to 9-7, and instead of making the playoffs three times in 12 seasons, they might have made it almost every other year.
In 2000, 2001 and 2008, the Redskins finished with 8-8 records. In 2002, Washington was 7-9. In some of those five seasons, the Redskins would have made the playoffs with a significantly better kicker.
In 2000, the Redskins used five kickers—Eddie Murray, Michael Husted, Kris Heppner, Brett Conway and Scott Bentley. They converted 20 of 30 field goals. The 66.7 percentage doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that in 2001, NFL kickers made 76.3 percent of all field goal attempts.
In 2001, Conway actually had a decent season, kicking 26 of 33 field goals for 78.8 percent.
However, in 2002, Redskins kickers were back to their losing ways. Washington converted on 64 percent of its field goal attempts, “led” by James Tuthill (10-of-16) and Jose Cortez (5-of-8).
In 2008, two of the Redskins’ eight losses were within three points. A field goal in each game might have given Washington two more wins and enabled the Redskins to make the playoffs. That was the season the Arizona Cardinals made the Super Bowl with a 9-7 record. Shaun Suisham kicked 26-of-36 field goals, a seemingly respectable 72.2 percent, but a closer look at the numbers shows that he was only 12 of 20 on kicks over 40 yards.
And let’s not forget such luminaries from 2004 to 2006 as Ola Kimrin (60 percent) and Nick Novak (58.8 percent).
The Redskins have had one kicker in the last 20 years who has made better than 80 percent of his kicks, which was still slightly worse than the league average during that time. That was Suisham, who kicked for Washington from 2006 to 2009.
It’s hard to quantify the psychological effect of missing kicks, especially easy ones. Close games can turn into blowouts after a team has missed a couple of field goals.
Gano may succeed on the long kicks—he’s 3-5 on kicks over 50 yards this year. But he’s only 3-6 on kicks from 30-39 yards, which should be automatic.
The bottom line is if the Redskins had put even average kickers on the field during the last decade, they could have made the playoffs at least a couple of more times. If they had had great kickers and average or above average special teams overall, we might be looking at the Snyder area a little differently.