In a game of major playoff implications, the Seattle Seahawks won in no small part by the inability of Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey to make his last two attempts. Let that sink in for a moment. Bailey, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed two field goal attempts and one of them from within 35 yards. That’s especially shocking given just how few attempts are missed from 35 yards or less league-wide this year.
In a game where Bailey banked a 51-yard attempt in good off the left upright and had another long attempt go through one can hardly blame him for the Cowboys loss, it’s hard to win when you only score 12 points.
In another game in the league Matt Prater, who holds the record for longest field goal at 64 yards, missed a 50 yard attempt short in Cincinnati today. Why am I bringing all of this up?
After Blair Walsh missed field goal attempts this season there were a lot of comments on kicking that were flat out wrong.
“Professional kickers don’t miss short on a 50 yard attempt!” — If the kicker with the longest field goal in NFL history can miss short on a 50 yard attempt, anyone can.
“Good kickers don’t miss multiple kicks in one game!” — If the most accurate kicker in NFL history can miss two in a row including a very makeable 34 yard attempt, anyone can.
I get accused of being a Walsh apologist a fair bit, if that’s your opinion that’s fine. But I don’t write this series to excuse his misses, and certainly not to praise a below average 74% field goal percentage this season. I write to try and explain the complexities in what is probably the most overlook portion of the game of football. Kicks may not be completely independent events, after all today we saw Bailey hit one attempt off the left upright just to miss two wide right later in the game, but a single bad kick, or a single bad game does not define a kicker.
The elimination of the Cowboys
Jon Ryan netted 323 yards of punting on seven kicks during the playoff elimination match versus Dallas. This was the fifth time this season that Ryan has punted more than 300 yards in a single game, and he averaged over 46 yards a punt on Christmas Eve. Surprisingly, the Seahawks are 3-2 in those five games. One would think that doubling your offensive yards in the punting game would spell disaster, yet Seattle left with a win and a renewed sense of purpose going into a must-win situation against the Arizona Cardinals. Ryan, who’s future in Seattle will be called into question due to his 2018 cap hit increasing from $1.6 million to $3.2 million, has punted for more yards this season than any since 2011, already eclipsing last year’s total by more than 600.
Perhaps they can extend him and ease his heavy average per year going into the next few seasons as he’s demonstrated he can still carry a heavy punting load.
For his part, Walsh was a perfect 3/3 on PATs during the contest, however due to the offensive drives of the Seahawks, didn’t get a chance at attempting a field goal. (Thankfully, the offense finished two drives with Russell Wilson touchdowns.) So far this year Walsh is 34/35 for over 97% on PATs, beating his career average of 95% and certainly beating his 2016 average of 78%.
For all his struggles in the field goal game, Walsh has improved whatever was wrong with his PATs in the last two years. If Seattle manages to punch their ticket to another playoff berth with a little help from the Carolina Panthers, the ability to put three points on the board will be extremely important. While sitting at a mediocre 70% from both 30-39 and 40-49 yards, upcoming high pressure kicks offer a chance at redemption after key misses in losses to Washington and Atlanta.
As for Bailey of the Cowboys, this isn’t the first game he’s struggled in this season; two weeks ago against the Giants, Bailey missed two field goals and an extra point, but nobody really notices when you win 30-10.
Early in this game his attempts were both just barely good and almost wide lift, with one of them banking in off the upright. His two misses were the opposite, both missing to the right. Playing in doors eliminates the possibility of either wind or temperature getting in the way of the veteran kicker, so perhaps his right groin injury from earlier in the season is still a factor as he was out for some time in the month of October.
Whether it was a nagging groin injury or just an off day, the Seahawks benefited from six points never making their way onto the scoreboard.
If given the chance, Seattle would love to have Dan Bailey instead of Blair Walsh. But on this day, Bailey somehow managed to make four field goals, including two over 50 yards, and still wound up the goat. That’s what you get for expecting a certain outcome from a kicker. Any kicker.