Colts’ Vinatieri isn’t alone: Kickers across NFL are struggling
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have a very proud tradition of successful kickers over the past couple of decades ranging from Al Del Greco to Joe Nedney to the late Rob Bironas to, now, Ryan Succop.
That’s what makes this season so surprising.
The Titans are on their third kicker and already have missed eight field goals through 10 games to match the team’s most misses since 2004, a dubious mark they also had in 2001. They rank dead last in the NFL, converting just 46.7% (7 of 15).
They’re not alone.
Kickers across the NFL are struggling to put the ball between the uprights this season. The 79.7% conversion rate through Week 11 is the league’s lowest number since 2003, when kickers hit 79.2%, missing 198 field goals, according to SportRadar.
“It’s probably just one of those years,” Titans special teams coach Craig Aukerman said. “Obviously, we’re not up to what we expect, but I just think it’s one of those years that it’s just been down. I mean, it’s hard kicking (field goals) in the NFL. … Now, are they all professional athletes and they should make them? Yes, no doubt. But next year it’ll probably go back up.”
Kickers converted just 77.7% of field goals in 1999 — the season the NFL introduced the “K” ball to be used fresh out of the box to keep kickers and punters from softening them up. By 2004, kickers had gotten so used to the “K” ball, the conversion rate started climbing and reached 86.5% in 2013.
Even the sweet spot from 40 to 49 yards hasn’t been a guarantee this season. Kickers have converted only 136 of 196 for a 69.4% rate that matches the 2003 figure.
Sometimes what went wrong is simple. Brandon McManus had a chance to pad Denver’s lead in the fourth quarter Sunday, only to send a 43-yarder wide right in a 27-23 loss to Minnesota.
“All I know is I kicked the ground, and it wasn’t even close,” McManus said.
Adam Vinatieri, the NFL’s career scoring leader and all-time field goal leader at age 46, has struggled with his worst season since 2003. He has missed five field goals and six extra points this season, which had the Colts trying out kickers last week.
Injuries also have been an issue.
Succop made a franchise-record 86.6% of kicks through his first five seasons with Tennessee and set an NFL record making 56 consecutive field goals inside 50 yards from 2014-17. Offseason surgery on his right (kicking) leg put him on injured reserve to start this season. The Titans tried out Cairo Santos and Cody Parkey, signing Santos with five years’ experience and kicking for his fifth team.
Santos wound up costing Tennessee two games.
He missed a 45-yard field goal wide left in the fourth quarter of a 19-17 loss to Indianapolis in Week 2. He then missed three field goals and had a fourth blocked in a 14-7 loss to Buffalo on Oct. 6. The Titans cut Santos a day later and brought in Parkey, who had been Chicago’s kicker last season until he booted the potential winning field goal off the upright and crossbar in a wild-card loss to Philadelphia at Soldier Field.
Succop returned Nov. 2 and missed his first three field goal attempts in a 30-20 loss at Carolina a day later.
“Obviously, I have to do a better job, so that’s what I’m doing,” Succop said.
The Jets are on their fourth kicker. Chandler Catanzaro retired abruptly after missing two of three extra points in New York’s preseason opener. Taylor Bertolet missed three field goals and two extra points before being cut. Kaare Vedvik was claimed off waivers from Minnesota, only to miss a 45-yard field goal and extra point in the Jets’ season-opening, 17-16 loss to Buffalo.
Sam Ficken, a late cut by Green Bay, is 7 for 11 on field goals for the Jets. He missed a field goal from 49 yards as well as an extra point in a win Sunday in Washington.
Spending lots of money hasn’t guaranteed success, either.
The 49ers didn’t expect any problems after placing the franchise tag on Robbie Gould last offseason before signing him in July to a four-year, $19 million contract with $10.5 million guaranteed. Gould had made 72 of 75 field-goal attempts in his first two seasons with San Francisco for the NFL’s best mark in that span. Only Baltimore’s Justin Tucker has been more accurate than Gould in NFL history.
Gould missed kicks in his first two games and three field goal attempts against Cleveland on Oct. 7. His seven misses in the first six games were the most in that span for San Francisco since 2000, when the 49ers shuffled through four long snappers.
A quadriceps injury kept Gould out against Seattle, and rookie fill-in Chase McLaughlin yanked a 47-yard attempt way left against the Seahawks in overtime in a 27-24 loss.
“Just rushed it a little bit, hit it a little high and unfortunately missed it,” said McLaughlin, who had been 6 of 9 in four games for the Chargers earlier this season.
Buffalo gave a two-year extension to Stephen Hauschka in August, and now the kicker who had the NFL’s longest active streak with 17 straight field goals made last season is 11 of 16 (68.8%) this season with the Bills. He missed from 34 yards in a loss to Cleveland, his first miss inside 39 yards since 2016, and pulled a 53-yarder that would’ve forced overtime wide left.
Hauschka doesn’t have any answers on what’s causing all the misses across the league.
“I have noticed that there’s been a lot,” Hauschka said.
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