EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — With each kick Sunday, Blair Walsh seemed to be trying to drive the ball harder, higher and further than he had on the previous kick in the Minnesota Vikings’ 36-22 win at St. Louis.
The first was a 50-yard field goal that was nearly the height of the upright as it crossed for Walsh’s sixth field goal this season of 50 yards or more. He added four more Sunday, including 53- and 51-yarders in Minnesota’s win, and added six touchbacks.
If Walsh wasn’t trying to prove a point, it sure looked that way.
In the same building as Rams rookie Greg Zuerlein on Sunday, Walsh was the rookie kicker that looked more like a phenom than Zuerlein, who has garnered plenty of attention league-wide with his leg strength since hitting three 50-plus yard field goals in the preseason and then adding a rookie record 60-yarder in the fourth week of the regular season.
Zuerlein has the nicknames to go with his growing legend such as “Greg the Leg” and “Legatron.” But it was Walsh — arguably been the best of an impressive crop of rookie kickers — who showed the big-time leg, and consistency, on Sunday.
“All those kicks yesterday were big kicks, particularly early on and with distance,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We felt comfortable putting him out there. We’re not afraid that we’re going to be in a situation where we’re putting ourselves on a shorter field. We felt very confident that once he went out there, there was a very good chance he was going to make the kick, and he did. Five for five, terrific day.”
Walsh is sixth in the league in scoring with 117 points. He’s 30 for 30 on extra-point tries and is 29 of 32 on field-goal attempts, going 8 for 8 from 50 yards and beyond with a long of 55 yards. With his three 50-yarders Sunday, he tied an NFL record for most field goals from 50-or-more yards in a single season.
Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, an undrafted rookie, has 112 points and has gone 25 of 27 on field-goal attempts this season, with a long of 56 yards. Zuerlein, for all the accolades, is just 21 of 28 this season on field goals and is 27th in the league in scoring with 84 points. His lone field-goal try Sunday, from 57 yards, was wide right and short.
Walsh, who was drafted four spots behind Zuerlein in April and the third kicker off the board, has established Vikings’ records for rookie scoring, 50-plus field goals in a season and most touchbacks in a season. Walsh’s 47 touchbacks this year, including six on Sunday, is fourth in the NFL. Tucker is right behind with 45. Zuerlein is 15th with 31.
And it all started with questions about Walsh after the draft, a surprise selection in the sixth round when Minnesota already had veteran Ryan Longwell. But Longwell was cut shortly after the draft, and the Vikings were all-in on Walsh and knew he had the mental approach to succeed long-term and improve on an inconsistent college career.
“We, with Mike Priefer, did a really good job of altering some things when we drafted him to help him to approve,” Frazier said. “His attitude all along has been one where, ‘I want to be coached.’ Mike and Chris White, our assistant special teams coach, they’ve done a terrific job in helping him to make some adjustments in some of the things he was doing technique wise. We’re seeing the results of it this season.
“But his approach mentally has been terrific and it’s shown on the field. He’s got ice water in his veins when it comes to making clutch kicks and doing the routine things as well. So the fact that he’s very coachable has been a plus for us.”