Blair Walsh knew it the instant he kicked the football. Knew his field goal would hook. Knew he would be a playoff goat instead of a playoff hero.
One second he lined up for a winning kick. And then it vanished, gone, poof. A stunning miss wide left.
Just like that. Season over.
The life of a placekicker can be a cruel, lonely existence. Walsh hit rock bottom Sunday.
“I’ll take the blame because I deserve every second of it,” he said.
For the record, Walsh didn’t lose a playoff game by himself. He had help, specifically from the franchise running back whose fumbleitis cost his team dearly in the postseason again.
Let’s not gloss over Adrian Peterson’s fumble in vilifying Walsh.
But despite all that went wrong on a polar plunge into the playoffs, the Vikings seemingly had victory in hand as Walsh lined up for a 27-yard field goal with 26 seconds left.
The snap was solid, the hold was flawed and Walsh’s kick never stood a chance once it left his foot.
Seahawks 10, Vikings 9.
More playoff heartbreak for a franchise that specializes in it. “I didn’t come through for us in that moment, and that hurts,” Walsh said.
Walsh waited for a crush of media members to surround him at his locker after the game. He maintained his composure answering questions for more than five minutes but then broke down in tears as teammates stopped by to console him.
“He’s stepped up big for us and won games for us in the past,” safety Harrison Smith said. “Not going to abandon him now.”
Some will say Walsh choked in a pressure moment. Some will blame holder Jeff Locke, who did not spin the ball so that the laces were facing out. Instead, the laces faced Walsh on the kick, the worst possible setup.
Both were to blame, but Walsh took ultimate responsibility.
“It’s my fault,” he said. “I don’t care if you give me a watermelon hold, I should be able to put that through. I’m the only one who didn’t do my job.”
Former Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell used to say that kickers either get a grade of A or F, nothing in between. They either make or miss, so evaluating them leaves no subjectivity.
Walsh’s entire performance touched extremes. He made his first three field-goal attempts — from 22, 43 and 47 yards — in harsh conditions.
“He hit three field goals in minus-25-degree windchill,” long snapper Kevin McDermott said. “That’s really hard to do.”
His reliability in those situations made his miss all the more stunning. No kicker is automatic, especially in those weather conditions and under playoff pressure. But Walsh lining up for a 27-yard field goal felt like a sure thing.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, NFL kickers were 189-for-191 on field goals of 27 yards or shorter this season before Walsh’s miss.
“I just didn’t put a swing on it that would be acceptable to anybody’s standards,” Walsh said.
In technical terms, Walsh said his mechanics broke down as he kicked the ball.
“I’m not sure why,” he said.
The hold probably didn’t help. Locke said he’s able to spin the ball while wearing gloves, but he chose not to this time, leaving the laces facing Walsh.
Kickers want laces turned out because the smoother surface provides an ideal contact point. Locke admitted he was worried about spinning a cold, slick ball. At a minimum, he said he should have spun the ball halfway so the laces weren’t lined up directly with Walsh’s foot.
He describes the snap-hold process as giving Walsh an ideal “picture” before his kick.
“That picture is not laces staring at him in the face,” Locke said.
Walsh wanted no part of sharing blame. It’s his name attached to the miss, not anyone else’s.
“[The hold] has nothing to do with why I missed,” he said. “You could give me the worst hold in the world and I’ll make it. [Locke] gave me a fine hold.”
He added: “The whole thing is on me, and I accept that.”
Walsh faces a hard road now. He rebounded from a shaky preseason to have a solid season, but he failed spectacularly in the biggest moment.
His name will be remembered in Vikings lore, along with other playoff failures. Social media will be cruel and unforgiving. This will test him.
Walsh said he believes he is one of the best kickers in the NFL, but he acknowledged that sounds “crazy” at the moment.
“I will be working hard to erase that from my career,” he said, “but it will take a while.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. His miss stays forever.
Just ask Gary Anderson.