The Vikings have the fifth-most accurate placekicker in the history of the NFL.
Nothing sets Vikings Nation abuzz with Purple trepidation quite like a clutch kick curling wide left in a critical late-season loss to Seattle.
Can we get an amen?
Not really, says Mike Zimmer, Vikings coach and longtime embattled employer of kickers.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Dan [Bailey],” Zimmer said when asked for his level of concern over Bailey hooking a point-after attempt wide left and leaving the Vikings trailing by four points with 7 minutes, 14 seconds left in Monday night’s 37-30 loss to the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
“He’s kicked very well all year long. And he wasn’t the only one who made a mistake.”
Bailey has cruised for the most part this season. He has won two NFC special teams player of the week honors for perfect performances vs. the Giants and Redskins.
He also had made 12 consecutive kicks — nine PATs and three field goals — when he missed Monday. That included a down-the-middle 47-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 17-10 lead as Monday’s first half ended with the Vikings hustling 46 yards downfield in eight plays and 58 seconds.
In 100 years of the NFL football, only four people — all of them still active — have converted field goals at a better clip than Bailey’s 86.77%. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker (90.56%) leads the way and is followed by Jacksonville’s Jason Lambo (87.79%), New England’s injured Stephen Gostkowski (87.38%) and New Orleans’ Will Lutz (87.02%).
“I think [Bailey’s] doing a really nice job,” Zimmer said Saturday. “I think [Vikings kicking consultant Nate Kaeding] has done a good job with him, helping him. I think the operation, [Britton] Colquitt has been really solid holding. I think that helps as well, and he’s kicking the ball good.”
Bailey would be the first to admit that today’s kickers get very little wiggle room from the expectation of perfection. This ain’t 1969, when the late Fred Cox missed 11 field goals and led the league in accuracy at 70.3%.
Bailey has missed only two field goals, going 16-for-18 (88.9%), and three PATs, going 33-for-36 (91.7%). But his PAT percentage ranks 10th among the 12 teams that currently sit in the top six spots in each conference.
Of course, his first missed PAT of the season was Stefon Diggs’ fault. It was Diggs’ 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for removing his helmet to gloat that forced a 48-yard attempt that was blocked in Week 2 at Green Bay.
But Bailey’s other missed PAT put the Vikings in a bind similar to Monday night. When he missed at Kansas City, it left the Vikings up by only six points at 16-10. They lost 26-23 on a last-second field goal.
Of the current top six teams in each conference, the best kicking situation resides in Baltimore, where the Ravens have an eight-game winning streak, the frontrunner for MVP in quarterback Lamar Jackson and Tucker, who has made 22 of 23 field-goal attempts (95.7%), including a winning 49-yarder to beat San Francisco on Sunday, and 44 of 45 PATs (97.8%).
Meanwhile, Packers warhorse Mason Crosby has missed only one kick all season, going 14-for-15 on field goals and 33-for-33 on PATs. And in Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin’s masterful maneuvering of a decimated roster has been aided by Chris Boswell making 23 of 25 field goals and all 23 PATs.
Meanwhile, the football gods are finally exacting a pound of pigskin from Bill Belichick, who is not only the best coach in league history but also the most blessed when it comes to kickers.
From his first game as head coach in Cleveland in 1991 through Week 4 of this season, Belichick had three full-time kickers — Matt Stover, Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski. They handled kicking chores in 421 of 430 games, including playoffs.
And if that’s not enough good fortune, the other nine games were handled by Shayne Graham, who made 14 of 14 field-goal attempts in 2010.
This year is a different story. New England has used four kickers because of Gostkowski’s season-ending hip injury, Mike Nugent’s ineffectiveness and Nick Folk’s emergency appendectomy last week. Kicker No. 4, former Viking Kai Forbath, was released Monday after one game, in which he missed a 38-yard PAT in Sunday night’s loss at Houston.
Gostkowski, Nugent, Folk and Forbath have made only 76.9% of their field goals (20-for-26) and 83.3% of their PATs (30-for-36) this season.
So, try not to worry, Vikings fans. None other than Bill Belichick would welcome the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history right about now.