Price of a rookie

Before the season even began, people questioned the decision to pick up a kicker in the third round of the NFL draft. But as the season wore on, the choice was a good one for the Chargers. Too bad it had to end this way

Nate Kaeding broke rookie team records and went 20-for-25 on his field goal attempts for the season. Two of his misses during the year came from outside of fifty yards and just one came from 40-49, but the playoffs are a different beast.

The rookie kicker also never had an opportunity to kick a game-winner with everything riding on his kick. While he has kicked field goals that eventually won a game, he has not knocked that one ball through that leaves the opponent heading for the locker room and the Chargers heading to glory.

That opportunity came in overtime on Saturday. The Chargers' kicker had a chance to send the Jets home and the Bolts on to the next round of the playoffs.

With four minutes and 23 seconds to go in the overtime, Kaeding lined up for a 40-yard field goal attempt.

"We got it on the right hash, which is what he was looking for," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said afterward.

New York called a timeout to try and ice the rookie. At that moment, the debate ensued whether it is ever wise to call a timeout in that situation. Wouldn't it put more pressure on the kicker not calling timeout with the play clock winding down and the need to get the ball snapped and kicked before taking a delay of game penalty?

Turns out the timeout was the way to go. The snap was good, the hold was solid but Kaeding knocked it wide right, never getting that hook sometimes seen on field goal attempts.

His hands went to his head in disappointment – an opportunity lost.

"I don't know what happened," Kaeding said of the kick. "I'm disappointed. That's something you work for all year, but I didn't come through.

"I let my teammates and my coaches down. It's hard not to be able to come in and look people in the eye."

Kaeding's 114 points on the year were the most ever by a Chargers' rookie and ranked 10th in the league among kickers.

Unfortunately, a kicker is defined by the clutch kicks he makes and is remembered more for the ones he misses.

"I just had every confidence that he would make it," Schottenheimer said.

In a game where he tallied his third touchback of the season, Kaeding's miss effectively ended the Chargers season.

The Jets took over on the San Diego 30 and marched down the field to place their own kicker, Doug Brien, on the hot seat.

"Most of the time in playoff games, the offense has to go down and win it," Jets quarterback Chad Pennington said. "When (Kaeding) missed, we got our chance. We just tried to keep our composure throughout the game and get the job done when the time came."

Brien, who missed a kick from 33 yards out earlier in the game and hit the right upright with his next kick from 42 yards out but that bounced through.

"After missing the kick in the opening quarter, I was going to shoulder the weight of this game had we lost," Brien said. "I'm just fortunate that my teammates kept fighting and gave me another chance."

One man's loss is another man's gain. Kaeding will have an offseason to think about it, a hefty weight for a player that just finished his first year in the NFL.


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