Nate Kaeding: Playoff Choke Artist

Ben AikeyCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2010

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 17:  Nate Kaeding #10 of the San Diego Chargers walks off the field after missing a field goal against the New York Jets in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Qualcomm Stadium on January 17, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Jets defeated the Chargers 17-14.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Yesterday, the San Diego Chargers lost 17-14 to the No. 5 seed New York Jets with a trip to the AFC Championship Game on the line.

Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding missed three field goals, two of which should have been chip shots from 37 and 40 yards, which ultimately cost San Diego the game.

Heartbreaking as it is, it’s not the first time “Big Game Nate” (as he was known in college: doesn’t really seem to apply now) has choked in the playoffs. In fact, it’s becoming a regular occurrence.

During his rookie season, he blew a 40-yard kick against the Jets in the Wild Card round. Getting upstaged by Doug Brien, who kicked the game-winner for the Jets, is never a good sign.

Fast forward to 2007. With home-field advantage and hosting the Patriots, the Chargers trailed 24-21 with about a minute left.

Philip Rivers and league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson led the Chargers down the field to set up a 54-yard kick by Kaeding that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

He blew the kick, and the Patriots would move on to the AFC Championship Game.

The next season, Kaeding built a streak of four straight games with a missed field goal, two of which were in the playoffs against Tennessee and Indianapolis.

I can understand he does well in the regular season. A career 87.2 percent kicker in the regular season is indeed impressive, but considering how he folds under pressure in the postseason, why does he not only get to keep his job, but also never seems to catch any criticism for the loss?

Kaeding holds a career home postseason record of three kicks made out of nine attempts.

That’s more than just bad—it’s downright unacceptable.

Three out of his first six seasons, his actions have cost the Chargers games in the playoffs. That’s painful enough, but the situational nature of this year’s meltdown hurts even more.

It’s not just missing three kicks in a playoff game. It’s not just losing to a five seed. It’s not even the fact that a win would have sent them to the conference championship.

It’s the fact the Chargers won’t get the chance to play Indianapolis.

The Chargers have knocked Peyton Manning and the Colts out of the playoffs two years in a row. The Chargers had all the confidence in the world against Indy, and two straight years of road wins against the same team in the playoffs really makes a statement.

By no means am I saying Kaeding is the only reason the Jets won yesterday. Far from it. Darrelle Revis and the rest of the Jets defense played possibly their best game of the season, picking off Rivers twice and holding San Diego’s run game to 61 yards.

The fact is even as tough as the Jets defense played, their offense (or lack thereof) still left the door open for the Chargers to win the game. And Kaeding couldn’t do it.

If Kaeding isn’t going to come through in the clutch, the Chargers won’t be able to fully reach their potential. This is a team good enough to win a Super Bowl, but as long as they have one weak link, it’s not going to happen.

The Chargers need to take a long look over their team this offseason. You’ve got an aging legend running back, a defense that underachieved this season, and a kicker who can’t seem to make a postseason field goal to save his life.

Which one would you get rid of?