Last week, Blair Walsh was asked about how his kicking, which has been problematic for the last year-plus, was turning itself around. The Minnesota Vikings kicker’s response was that, when it comes to kickers, repetition is often the key and, when they get on a roll, good things happen.
“I’ve always believed that there is a cycle in kicking,” Walsh said. “When you get out of your normal routine or start getting into some bad habits, you struggle. The more focus you can get, the more automatic things become. Kicking is a job of streaks – both good and bad. I’ve had some struggles, but I feel like I’ve turned it around.”
Last year, as he played his first home season outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium, Walsh had the worst field goal percentage in the league, making just 74 percent (26 of 35). His nine misses were more than he had missed in his first two seasons combined (61 of 68) and things didn’t look to be getting any better this season.
In the preseason, he missed 6 of 11 field goal attempts, with at least one miss in four of the five games. He hit bottom against Oakland, missing all three of his field goal attempts as well an extra point.
Having just signed a long-term contract extension during training camp, Walsh’s anemic performance was unsettling to say the least. When he missed a field goal in the first quarter of the Week 4 game at Denver, Walsh was just 4 of 6 on field goals (67 percent) and had shanked an extra point as well.
Since then, he’s been automatic, with the exception of one hooked extra point. Since that early miss at Denver, he has made all 13 of his field goals, including all three he attempted Sunday against the Bears. In his first four games, he had scored just 26 points for the Vikings. In his last three games, he has scored 37 of the Vikings’ 67 points and has been critical to the team winning all three of those games.
“(I’ve not) changed anything, but I’m confident. I’m where I want to be,” Walsh said after Sunday’s game-winning field goal as time expired. “I’m kind of hitting my groove. It’s just making kicks. That’s huge for us. We’re going to play in a lot of close games’ that’s how our division is. We need to make all those kicks, especially those fourth-quarter ones. We’ve been doing a good job recently. There are lots of factors. It’s just not me. We do have good protection and snaps and holds. Those guys are really good at what they do.”
At no time did head coach Mike Zimmer lose faith in Walsh and said when the team got in position to put away the Bears, there was nobody he wanted out there other than Walsh.
“I knew he was going to make it,” Zimmer said. “He’s been making them every day in practice. The ball came off his foot good. You can tell when a guy is kicking the ball good because there’s a thump to it. He thumped it pretty good and it was dead down the middle.”
For a player who was on the hot seat for the better part of a year, Walsh is starting to look more like the rookie who went to the Pro Bowl and, when the Vikings have needed the special teams to bail out the team for a win, Walsh has proved he can get the job done.
“Those are moments you dream about as a kid. Those are what you work for every single week,” he said. “To be put in those situations where the games come down to the wire and they depend on you. Just go out there and do what you know how to do. You’ve done it so many times, and you’ve been successful, you just need to believe in yourself. That’s really what it is.”
GAME DAY NOTES
- With the win Sunday, Zimmer improved his record as a head coach to 12-11, the first time he has been above .500 since winning his coaching debut at St. Louis last year.
- Zimmer said that the Vikings came out of the game healthy, despite Everson Griffen leaving twice during the game with what Zimmer described as a stinger. Griffen came out in the first quarter, then returned the game and left again in the fourth quarter with the same injury.
- Right tackle T.J. Clemmings left the game with what was described as a neck stinger as well. He was replaced by rookie Austin Shepherd, who finished out the game at right tackle.
- The Bears didn’t fare any better. They finished the game without two of their three leading receivers. Running back Matt Forte was hit in the knee by Harrison Smith on the first drive of the third quarter and went to the locker room, and slot receiver Eddie Royal missed most of the second half with a knee injury.
- The Vikings have allowed 20 or fewer points in six of their seven games. The only game in which they didn’t was at Denver when they allowed 23 points to the Broncos.
- Adrian Peterson finished the game with 20 carries for 103 yards, the fifth straight game in which he has topped 100 yards against the Bears.
- It was a tale of two halves for Teddy Bridgewater. In the first half, he completed 7 of 14 passes for just 41 yards and no touchdowns with one interception. In the second half, he completed 10 of 16 passes, but they went for 146 yards and a touchdown.
- With five minutes left in the game, Bridgewater had completed 11 of 22 passes for 81 yards. In the last two drives, he completed 6 of 8 passes for 106 yards.
- Alshon Jeffery had another big day against the Vikings defense, catching 10 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. In his last four games against the Vikings, he has caught 35 passes for 534 yards and four touchdowns, including three games with 10 or more receptions and yardage totals of 249, 135 and 116 in that stretch.
- Stefon Diggs once again led the Vikings in receptions with six for 95 yards and a touchdown. In just four games, Diggs has caught 25 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns. Despite missing the first three games of the season, he leads the team in receiving yards by 127 yards over the next-highest total (Mike Wallace, 292) and is only one reception short of taking over the team lead in that category, too.
- Of Bridgewater’s 30 passes Sunday, 12 of them were targeted to Diggs. Nobody else was targeted more than four times.
- Veteran cornerback Terence Newman led the Vikings with eight tackles, six of those solo tackles.
- The Vikings got just one sack of Cutler Sunday, coming from rookie Danielle Hunter. Cutler has only been sacked 10 times in seven games this season.
- The Vikings defense was strong on third down once again, limiting the Bears to just three conversions on 12 attempts. The Vikings converted on five of 12 third downs.
- Marcus Sherels scored the third punt return for a touchdown of his career in the first quarter. It would stand as the only Vikings touchdown of the game until less than two minutes remained.
- The Vikings’ punt coverage was stellar again, allowing just three yards on the two punts that were returned – both of them being muffed by Chicago return man Marc Mariani, who received mock cheers from the fans at Soldier Field for all other punts he handled without a problem.
- Thanks to a pair of long drives in the second half, Chicago dominated the time of possession. In the first half, the Vikings held a time-of-possession advantage of 16:46 to 13:14. Minnesota finished the game behind by more than five minutes (32:42 to 27:16) because the Bears held the ball for 19:28 of the 30 minutes of the second half.
- Prior to the three-and-out drive the Vikings defense was able to force in the final two minutes, Chicago’s first three drives of the second half were of 12, nine and 14 plays.
- The four longest plays from scrimmage all came from the Vikings in the final 4:14 of the game – plays of 40, 35, 20 and 19 yards.
- For a tough divisional game where penalties can be expected because of the violent nature of those meetings, each team was flagged just four times.
- Sunday was the first time in eight games that Bears head coach John Fox has lost a game following his team’s bye week.
- Jay Cutler tied Hall of Famer Sid Luckman for the all-time lead in touchdown passes as a Bear with 137. Cutler also went over 20,000 career passing yards as a Bear. He already held the franchise record in that category.