NASHVILLE – Rick Spielman’s best work was on display on Sunday afternoon, as the depth and speed of his roster eventually overwhelmed the Tennessee Titans’ latest bad team.
The Vikings’ 25-16 victory sets up the next routinely epic showdown with the Packers, this one opening U.S. Bank Stadium and featuring the quarterback who cost Spielman two high draft picks.
Now Spielman has to hope that one of his biggest mistakes won’t become the in-game story line next Monday night.
Trading for Sam Bradford is not that mistake. Spielman made the right move for the right reasons, however Bradford performs.
The question Spielman has to hope he doesn’t hear next Monday involves an unforced error: the signing of kicker Blair Walsh to a four-year, $14 million contract extension. Spielman has to regret treating a kicker like he’s a real football player.
Sunday, Walsh made four field goals yet made himself the Vikings’ primary negative in an otherwise positive afternoon.
Walsh missed a 37-yard attempt early in the first quarter. He badly pulled a 56-yarder near the end of the first half, leaving it short enough that the Titans might have been able to return it a long way if Titans coach and serial overthinker Mike Mullarkey hadn’t called one of those inane “freeze the kicker” timeouts.
Then Walsh missed from 56 yards again. Missing from that distance is generally not cause for concern, but missing wide and short twice in a row after missing a 37-yarder when your last attempt that mattered was a 27-yard shank that should have won a playoff game?
That’s the definition of cause for concern.
After making field goals of 50 and 33 yards in the third quarter, Walsh missed an extra point, leaving the Vikings up just 12-10.
Walsh made four of his six field-goal attempts. He made one from 50 yards. Without context, that doesn’t sound bad. In context, given Walsh’s contract and season-ending miss, it’s alarming.
The Vikings rely on their defense, which means they may play low-scoring games against quality teams. Good teams require kicking competence. If Adam Vinatieri had missed a few key kicks, Bill Belichick might have lost Super Bowls to the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers.
Without clutch performances from his kicker, Belichick might have no more Super Bowl victories than Tom Flores and Mike Shanahan.
“I think I can bounce back and I’ve shown that, but I want to make it smooth from the beginning,” Walsh said. “That’s something I need to work on.”
Kickers, pitchers and goalies tend to speak as if they’re in the midst of therapy, but the bouncing back was supposed to begin with the start of the regular season, not occur at some indefinite date in November.
“A lot of the drama starts with you guys,” Walsh said.
He’s both wrong and wrong-headed about that. Journalists are much kinder to him than the average Twitter follower, and pretending that an article focusing on his missed kicks brings more pressure than millions of fans or dozens of teammates’ eyeballs is a self-serving fantasy.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer called Walsh’s performance “disappointing.” Zimmer also said, “He’s our kicker,” the way a parent might announce ownership of a child accused of biting in day care.
Entering this season, Walsh had made 96.6 percent of his extra points and 85.2 percent of his field goals. Robbie Gould has made 99.1 percent of his extra points and 85.4 percent of his field goals.
Walsh was brought back, despite one of the shortest game-losing playoff misses of all time. Gould was released by the Bears, and is available. The Vikings are unlikely to cut their kicker after one regular-season game, but Walsh has made speculation pertinent.
Spielman has built a strong roster, one good enough to win two weeks after his franchise quarterback suffered a catastrophic knee injury.
He didn’t need to see Walsh missing extra points and field goals Sunday. Of course, he didn’t need to sign Walsh to the extension in the first place.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • email@example.com