It's not easy making 56,607 people forget a 16-year veteran with one swing of the foot. But Vikings kicker Blair Walsh found a way to do it in his NFL debut.
Walsh, the sixth-round draft pick who replaced Ryan Longwell on the roster, kicked a 55-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. Another field goal from 38 yards in overtime coupled with a final defensive stand gave the Vikings a 26-23 victory over the Jaguars in the season opener at Mall of America Field on Sunday.
"That's a make-or-break kick for a rookie in his first game, especially when you consider who he's replacing," said punter and holder Chris Kluwe. "Either you make it or you go home because that's exactly what he was brought in to do. I think it showed a lot about the maturity of a [22-year-old] guy."
Walsh never had to compete with Longwell, who ranks 11th in NFL history in career field goal accuracy (83.2) but was released a week after Walsh was selected 175th overall. Walsh had missed 14 of 35 attempts at Georgia as a senior but was billed as a great kickoff guy who needed some fine tuning by special teams coach Mike Priefer.
Done and done.
Walsh's deep kickoffs created three touchbacks and no return longer than 22 yards. The Jaguars' average starting spot following the six kickoffs was the 19.5-yard line.
But no one would have cared or even noticed if Walsh hadn't made both PATs, all four of his field-goal attempts and shown that his "intestinal fortitude is incredible," as coach Leslie Frazier summed up the 55-yarder that spared his résumé from another embarrassing fourth-quarter collapse.
No one was thinking about the possibility of that 55-yarder when Jacksonville was taking a three-point lead on a 39-yard touchdown catch by Cecil Shorts and a two-point conversion catch by Justin Blackmon with 20 seconds left in regulation.
Nobody except Walsh, that is.
"I told the coaches anything 60 and inside I could honestly give it a realistic shot," Walsh said. "I had a feeling it was coming. Twenty seconds was enough time to get it down the field."
Especially with Walsh's range. The third field goal of his NFL career matched Longwell's career long. Longwell's 55-yard came as an 11-year veteran in his 165th NFL game.
"It takes a lot of pressure off of the offense," quarterback Christian Ponder, who moved the team 32 yards in three plays to set up the field goal. "We know if we get it close -- not even that close since it was 55 yards -- if we just get it on their side of the field, there's a good chance we're going to come away with points."
Walsh wouldn't lie and say he didn't feel the pressure as he walked onto the field for 55-yarder.
"Everybody gets butterflies," Walsh said. "If they don't, there's something wrong with them. My mentality was just to hit it and make sure I got it there and give it a chance. And it went in. ... It's awesome."