The Vikings hope kicker Dan Bailey will get out of his slump with time. It turns out coach Mike Zimmer just needed a couple of days to decide to stick with the 32-year-old slumping Pro Bowler who has made just three of his past 10 kicks.
Zimmer, who on Monday said he needed more time and Wednesday declined to reveal his choice, told reporters Thursday he gave Bailey a (virtual) vote of confidence in front of the team this week.
The first signal came earlier Tuesday when the Vikings released practice squad kicker Tristan Vizcaino. They're still evaluating options beyond Sunday's game against the Bears, having brought in veteran free agent Chandler Catanzaro for a tryout.
Bailey has responded well in practices and coaches praised his outlook of trusting a proven process over riding the emotional highs and lows of each result.
"He's kicked good this week," Zimmer said Thursday. "I talked to him a couple times this week about certain things. He's a very even-keeled guy that has a history of being a terrific kicker in this league. Like I told the team the other day, there's not one guy on our football team that hasn't had a bad day. That's just part of life.
"We're not going to dwell on it. Everybody else will, but we're not."
The Vikings sideline still will hold its collective breath when Bailey's next kick arrives against the Bears. But the fact that Sunday is Bailey's 152nd NFL game is reassuring to Zimmer, coordinator Marwan Maalouf and the Vikings' special teams units that do not need another problem.
"He's got a short memory," Maalouf said. "We learn from our mistakes and we move on. That's just how he's always been, whether he's at the highs or lows. It doesn't matter with him, which has been a positive."
Some of Bailey's fundamentals have been cleaned up after noticing "one or two things" in the film of his 0-for-4 day in Tampa Bay, Maalouf said. Because of COVID restrictions, the Vikings no longer bring in consultant and former NFL kicker Nate Kaeding, who worked with Bailey last season while commuting sporadically from Iowa City.
So they've sharpened evaluations amid Bailey's slump, which came after he had made 36 of 39 kicks this season.
"[Bailey] is very critical of every single step," Maalouf said. "His jab step, his approach, the tempo of his approach. Those are all things that we look at, regardless of how he's kicking or not. We've probably been a little more critical of those things. We are definitely a lot more detailed.
"There's been a couple things that have come up. That's what we've been working on. So hopefully he'll be ready."
Bailey's field goal percentage (12 of 18, 67%) is the lowest of any NFL kicker still with a job by Week 15 of this season. But he's the second proven veteran kicker under 70%, joining Tennessee's Stephen Gostkowski, who bounced back after missing five kicks in the Titans' first two games. The Vikings saw Gostkowski's rebound firsthand at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the former Patriots stalwart made all six field-goal attempts in a one-point Titans win in September.
Can Bailey also find his groove in the Vikings' home stadium?
Maintaining a precise routine is key. The Vikings' midseason change at long snapper wasn't a small thing, which former NFL kicker Ryan Longwell pointed out this week, saying,"it's all about the rhythm" between snapper, holder and kicker.
Second-year long snapper Austin Cutting had struggled, and after bouncing a snap off the grass in last month's win at Chicago, he lost his job to veteran journeyman Andrew DePaola. Bailey made his first eight kicks with DePaola — including a 53-yard field goal against the Panthers three weeks ago — but Maalouf didn't rule out that change factoring in this slump.
"That could always be a possibility," he said. "It depends sometimes on how you left off with the [previous] one — like, I like what we have with Andrew [DePaola], and I think Dan would tell you the same thing.
"If a certain aspect of it is different with a previous long snapper that you're compensating for as a kicker, then maybe that gets corrected, you know what I mean? Then you're adapting to the new tempo, which is really what your old tempo should have been."