TAMPA, Fla. — You could sense Dan Bailey flinching as he approached the ball on Sunday, could almost feel dozens of teammates and millions of Vikings fans flinching along with him.
Bailey is in yip mode and could soon have a new zip code. He missed four kicks on Sunday in the Vikings' 26-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, and the manner of his misses was as troubling as the amount.
He pulled an extra-point attempt to the left, then badly missed three field goals to the right, the kind of over-correction that occurs when the brain bizarrely overrides years of training and negates years of success.
The Vikings may feel they have little choice but to release Bailey. When a player has one job and loses confidence in the mechanics that allow him to do that job, he leaves you little choice.
But let's keep in mind the context of Bailey's arrival and possible departure. Let's remember a few facts.
- On Sunday, Bailey could have produced 10 more points. But that would not have been enough to win the game, and no one should assume that any kicker would automatically make a 54-yard field goal on grass in an outdoor stadium. Blaming the loss solely on Bailey is scapegoating.
- Bailey never would have made it to Minnesota if the Vikings had shown more patience in Daniel Carlson, now one of the league's most accurate kickers, or if coach Mike Zimmer didn't make kickers quiver like tuning forks every time he walked by.
The Packers' Mason Crosby slumped in 2012. They stuck with him and he's built a remarkable career. He made a career-best 91.7 percent of his field goals last year and was perfect in 2020 entering Sunday's action.
I understood why the Vikings released Carlson at the time. They felt they had a championship-caliber team and didn't want to rely on a young and shaky kicker.
I'd understand them releasing Bailey this week, because his next missed field goal could cost them a playoff berth.
Look at Zimmer's history, though, and you have to wonder if he has damaged his team with his handling of special teams specialists. He has cost the Vikings draft picks, and maybe a few games.
Sunday, Zimmer was all over the map when answering questions about Bailey, saying:
- "I don't know what the struggles were. He missed one to the left and pushed three to the right. So, we'll have to decide that [his fate] as we move forward.''
- "It does let a little bit of air out of you; you anticipate guys making those kicks.''
- "At this point, we're not really worried about feelings anymore.''
- "Let's not put this all on Dan Bailey.''
As Zimmer has proved, anyone can fire a kicker or punter. Finding an upgrade, or guiding someone through a slump, is much more difficult.
The most convenient move the Vikings could make would be elevating Tristan Vizcaino from the practice squad.
Vizcaino has had one year as a full-time kicker since he left high school. His last year at the University of Washington, he made 63 percent of his field goal attempts.
Bailey has never had a season in which he made fewer than 75 percent of his attempts, until now. His success rate this season is 67 percent.
This would be a good time to point out that two contending teams, one featuring at least a couple of Hall of Famers and the other boasting three of the best skill-position players in the league, played a pivotal game in mid-December and Dan Bailey became a bigger topic of conversation than Tom Brady or Dalvin Cook.
Dozens of supreme athletes risked injury and made superhuman moves while smashing into each other for three hours, and four swings of Bailey's right leg, spanning about 10 seconds, became the story.
Letting kickers decide football games is like letting figure skaters deciding hockey games.
Since the NFL isn't about to eliminate kickers, the Vikings need to find another Carlson, and this time they need to keep him far away from Mike Zimmer.