Blair Walsh is finding the winds of TCF Bank Stadium are no breeze to master.
The difference in windy conditions from game to game and on each end of the field during games is different every time. Because of the setup at the Minnesota Vikings’ temporary stadium, with an open end on the west side and full upper deck behind the east end zone, the swirling winds of TCF Bank Stadium have caused Walsh to go into full hyper-analysis mode.
Walsh, the Vikings’ third-year kicker, uncharacteristically missed two field goals in Sunday’s 30-24 overtime win against the New York Jets.
The first was a third-quarter miss from 39 yards out with 5:03 to play in the third quarter that Walsh pushed wide right. It would have extended the Vikings’ lead to 24-18.
“Didn’t play the wind enough,” Walsh said Monday after looking at the film that confirmed what he felt after the game. “I just kind of took it right outside that right upright. Thirty-nine is that awkward distance where you can’t play (the wind) too much because it’s still a relatively shorter field goal, but you’ve got to give it enough respect and I feel I gave it enough respect.”
Perhaps too much.
With five minutes and 28 seconds left in regulation, he nailed a 20-yard field goal that put the Vikings back in the lead at 24-21 in the open end of the stadium. But with three seconds remaining in the game and the game tied, Walsh lined up for a 56-yard field that would have won the game. He’s hit from that distance before, but this time he missed it horribly.
The ball appeared to pop up into the air and fell well short and well right of the mark.
“I just tried to put it outside of the right upright because of a right-to-left wind and I knew that was the only way it was going to stay straight enough to go through. I just did not catch it clean at all,” he said.
“Just caught a little bit of the ground and flipped the toe up and it went off to the right.”
The short miss went down as wide right and the longer miss as short, but both were right of the uprights.
Walsh and punter Jeff Locke have been spending time each week of practice before home games going down to TCF Bank Stadium to get accustomed to the conditions there. They have also spent time practicing outdoors at Winter Park while the rest of the team has been indoors.
But there is little doubt that the swirling winds of TCF are proving a challenge for the third-year kicker. There is no easy way to gauge the winds. At any moment on a breezy day, the different flags at the stadium – from the large American flag to the orange flags on the goal posts – can be flying in different directions and change in an instant.
“Of course there’s always times you’re going to try and overthink things and try to question what you did,” Walsh said. “You’ve got to be able to move forward. It’s part of the game, part of the process.”
Walsh entered the season hitting 61 of 68 field goals, including 20 of 21 from 30 to 39 yards and 12 of 15 from 50 yards or more. Both of those ranges took a hit with his misses on Sunday.
This year, he is 5-for-5 on field goal attempts kicked inside a dome, the former home environment for him. But kicking outdoors, Walsh is 17-for-23 this year.
“There’s no underlying problem or issue. I think I’ve done enough damage outside this year where I think I can prove that I can kick outside. Games like (Sunday’s) don’t help my statement there. I’m fine. I’ll be fine,” Walsh said.
“(The wind) was bad all day. It was bad for their kicker and he did a great job. It was bad for their punter, as well, and our punter, and they both did good jobs. I need to hold up my end and make that kick at the end, or at least give it a good chance. Yeah, the conditions are the same for everybody.”
Walsh said the wind swirls around in the open (west) end of the stadium and called it “very unpredictable,” but reiterated his job is to do well in any conditions.
From the offseason to weekly in-season visits to The Bank before home games, Walsh said he gained additional knowledge about the winds of TCF and is getting more comfortable with kicking there.
He has one more game there this year, the regular-season finale Dec. 28 against the Chicago Bears, and called it a chance for redemption. But, before that, he gets to return to dome kicking at Ford Field in Detroit this Sunday.
“Anytime you can go inside and play a game it’s going to be good for your team. Conditions are tough to play in (at TCF), but it’s football,” he said. “It’s an outdoor sport and it’s meant to be played outside, as well. You’ve got to perform outside.”
Walsh finds mastering winds of TCF no breeze
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