It appears the Vikings have finally run out of patience with Blair Walsh.
One day after the shaky placekicker shanked an extra point, had a field goal blocked and failed to force a return on the final kickoff of regulation, coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings planned to have several kickers in for a workout on Tuesday.
The coach did not disclose which kickers got the invitation to Winter Park. However, a league source told the Star Tribune that free agent kickers Kai Forbath and Randy Bullock both will work out for the Vikings.
Asked about his reasoning, he said bluntly, “You haven’t been watching all year?”
Walsh, who has not bounced back from his infamous 27-yard miss in the team’s playoff loss last January, has missed four of his 16 field-goal attempts this season and his three misses on extra-point tries are tied for the most in the league.
“We’ve missed three extra points this year. We’ve missed several field goals. The way our games are being played, they’re probably going to come down to a lot of close games, I hope so at least anyway,” Zimmer said. “We have to look at all avenues as far as what gives us the best opportunity to win football games.”
In Sunday’s 22-16 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions, Walsh hit the right upright on a third-quarter point-after attempt that would have tied the score at 10-10.
Zimmer acknowledged that Walsh’s 46-yard kick that got blocked in the fourth quarter was low and noted that it resulted in a six-point swing for the Vikings because it put Lions kicker Matt Prater in position to hit a 53-yard field goal.
Then, after the Vikings scored a touchdown in the final minute of regulation to take a 16-13 lead, a Lions penalty placed the kickoff at the 50-yard line. Walsh was instructed to loft the kickoff to around the 5-yard line, forcing the Lions to return it and take time off the clock. But Walsh booted a touchback.
Following the stunning loss, their third straight setback, the kicker lashed out at reporters for asking about his miscues.
“It is not that I am frustrated. But you guys have to understand, what do you want the answer to be? I want to be there for my team. Of course I do,” the 26-year-old snapped. “But come on, you ask the same questions every week.”
Walsh has missed at least one kick in four of the team’s eight games in 2016.
“I am confident in what I am doing. I know I am going to be fine,” he added.
Walsh then said under his breath some not-so-friendly words about the exchange after the large group of media members turned to walk away from his locker.
While admitting he, too, can get frustrated with the media, Zimmer said, “It’s part of our job to answer the questions after we don’t do what we’re supposed to do.”
Sunday was the first time the Vikings paid for their decision to stand by Walsh since his last-second miss in the 10-9 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
In the immediate aftermath of “Wide Left,” Walsh handled himself admirably while taking accountability for the miss. He also vowed to be at his best in 2016.
During spring workouts, the Vikings had Walsh, against the kicker’s wishes, focus on shorter field goals. They intentionally did not ask him to attempt any from 27 yards, thus avoiding any Seahawks flashbacks.
“He thought he was being babied a little bit,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said in September. “There’s a method to our madness. Coach Zimmer said, ‘Let’s just start him short and let him get his confidence up and go from there.’ ”
Walsh’s confidence never seemed to return, though, despite his repeated assertions that he had never lost it. He was wide left on a potential game-winner in a preseason win in Seattle, then missed three kicks in the season-opening win at Tennessee.
Before Sunday, Walsh had split the uprights on every kick in his previous three games. But his trio of costly miscues in the loss to the Lions could be the final straw for the cap-strapped Vikings, who would take a $1.7 million cap hit if they cut him.
Explaining why the Vikings waited to seriously look at alternatives to Walsh, one of the NFL’s top kickers in his first two NFL seasons, Zimmer said, “You have belief and confidence in guys because you know what they’ve done in the past.”
Asked if he thinks Walsh still can be a successful kicker, Zimmer replied, “Yes.”
But after Sunday’s loss, it seems unlikely Walsh will get more time to do it here.