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Field-goal kickers missing more this season

October 13, 2018

Throw out Mason Crosby — which many Packers fans no doubt would like to do right about now — and NFL kickers still made only 81.3 percent of their field-goal attempts in another topsy-turvy week last week.

Throw in Mason Crosby’s 1-for-5 Motor City Nightmare — which most Vikings fans would no doubt insist upon — and that percentage dips to 76.8 (53 of 69).

And that, folks, isn’t good enough. Hasn’t been for some time.

The last time the league percentage was below 76.8 for a season was 2001 (76.3). The last time the individual percentage champion was below 76.8 was 1977, when Toni Fritsch posted 75.0 for the Houston Oilers.

For the season, teams are making 82.6 percent of their field goals. If it stays that way, it will be the worst mark since 2010, when teams made 82.4 percent.

In other words, kickers, the pressure is on. Step up or prepare to ship out.

The Vikings and Browns dumped their opening-day kickers 15 days after opening day. The Packers are sticking with Crosby, but for how long?

“I don’t know if there’s more pressure on kickers today than ever before,” Vikings kicker Dan Bailey said. “But I do think guys have gotten so much better. The skill set required to have one of the 32 jobs out there available has probably gotten a little more refined.

“So maybe inherently with that there is higher pressure.”

Bailey has the second-most accurate career percentage (87.7). But he was out of work until the Vikings put rookie Daniel Carlson out of work after three misses in the Week 2 tie at Green Bay.

Bailey, who was released by the Cowboys before the season, was back on the hot seat early on in last week’s win at Philadelphia.

When he lined up for a 28-yard field goal at the 8:47 mark of the first quarter, the score was 0-0 and Bailey’s career percentage was 88.3. He clanged the ball off the left upright.

“Fortunately and unfortunately, I had been there before,” Bailey said of the short miss. “You just can’t go down that road thinking about it from a negative standpoint. You just can’t, or you’re done. You got to stay positive and understand that how a game starts isn’t indicative of how your entire day will go.”

Bailey missed another field goal wide left from 45 yards. But he finished the day 3-for-5 with a 52-yarder that gave the Vikings a two-score lead with 2:47 left.

And, suddenly, few, if any, in Purple Nation cared that Bailey’s career percentage had dropped seven points in one struggling afternoon.

No position in the NFL has been improved more dramatically through the years than place-kicker. It’s the reason the league pushed the point-after attempts from 20 to 33 yards in 2015.

Kickers made 99.3 percent of their PATs in 2014. Since then, their yearly percentages have been 94.2, 93.6, 94.0 and 94.7 so far this season.

“Moving the PAT back has maybe made it look like guys aren’t as good as they used to be,” Bailey said. “But a 20-yard PAT, you don’t have to hit it well for it to go through. Now, you’re asking some guys to essentially make 30, 40, 50 33-yard field goals. I don’t care how good you are, that’s tough.”

And it appears to have added another layer of pressure that’s affecting some kickers.

“It’s the reality of the situation,” Bailey said. “Expectations are high. I like that. It’s better than low expectations.”

In 1969, the Vikings’ Fred Cox was the league’s most accurate field goal kicker. His percentage: 70.3.

That would be good for 31st this season. Just ahead of Crosby (68.8).

“It is interesting to go back and look at what the numbers were a long time ago,” Bailey said. “There are a lot of factors involved. The style of kicking has changed. Fields were terrible back then.

“But guys are better, too. And if you perform at a high level, people expect a high level going forward. If you drop below that, the fallout is expected.”

Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: mcraig@startribune.com

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