Blair Walsh endured rough stretch, finds groove for Minnesota Vikings

Blair Walsh shrugged off a question about his preseason struggles, stating the obvious – it’s the regular season that counts. Few have been better than Walsh in that regard, especially when it comes to long field goals.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion, but the NFL made it official Wednesday, naming Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after scoring 19 points, including five field goals in the Vikings’ 49-17 win over the New York Giants Sunday night.

It was the fifth time in Walsh’s career that he has won the NFC special teams award. He won it three times during his rookie season in 2012 and again in 2013.

He seemed an obvious choice after making field goals of 22, 27, 32, 52 and 53 yards Sunday and was humbled by winning the honor for a fifth time in four years.

“It’s a nice honor to win,” Walsh said. “It’s a team effort for us on special teams, so I’ll take it.”

His recent success has been a far cry from the struggles Walsh endured last season and into the preseason. In 2014, he had the worst field goal percentage in the league and, when he followed that up with a brutal preseason – missing six of 11 field goals – there were some questions as to how much more faith the Vikings were going to show in him.

However, he has turned it around this season, climbing up to fourth in scoring among kickers and has made 87 percent of his field goals. He is tied for the league lead in field goal attempts, yet he continues to answer questions about his struggles in the preseason.

“This is a never-ending preseason, huh?” Walsh said. “It never ends. It’s the regular season that counts. That’s the way I look at it.”

His fellow special teamers shared in the honor as Walsh continues to put his name not only the Vikings record book, but the all-time record book as well.

He set a record for most field goals from 50 or more yards as a rookie in 2012, going 10-for-10 from long distance, has made more from 50 yards or longer (23) than any kicker in the league his four seasons, has tied the career mark for most games with five field goals (three, tying him with Gary Anderson) and has more than twice as many field goals of 50 yards or more than any other Vikings kicker in history (second is Ryan Longwell with 11).

As he continues to rewrite the record book, his teammates have been impressed with how easy he makes it look.

“That is a well-deserved award for him,” long snapper Kevin McDermott said. “He’s done a great job throughout the season. We’re just happy to be a part of it.”

Just as players are forced to erase their memories after a great game or an awful game, Walsh has been able to shrug off the criticism he endured during the tough stretches he had last year and this preseason. He has already kicked two game-winning field goals and his holder – punter Jeff Locke – said that Walsh is a true professional who, like every other player on the roster, finds a way to fight through adversity and turn bad situations around.

“Everybody has a rough stretch during a season, whether it’s somebody on offense, defense or special teams,” Locke said. “The good players are able to focus and get through those rough patches. Blair is one of those players. He’s been as good as just about any kicker in the league, especially when the pressure is on and you need a field goal to win a game.”

One of the concerns Walsh had about the move to TCF Bank Stadium was that he had very little experience kicking in cold, windy conditions that are inherent to Minnesota in the latter portion of the season. He has made the most of it and come to embrace it, although he is the first to admit he can’t wait to get into U.S. Bank Stadium and leave cold-weather kicking to the whims of the schedule makers.

The intimidation factor of the weather is no longer an issue for the
Vikings. They’ve become accustomed to dealing with the elements – good, bad or ugly – and have tried to turn the cold into their friend, not there enemy.

As a result, going to Lambeau Field Sunday night won’t be as intimidating as it may have been a year or two ago. Until the end of this season, kicking in the cold is kicking in “Vikings weather.”

“You get used to it,” Walsh said. “We’ve been here now for two years outside at TCF. You kind of understand the patterns of the weather a little bit. We go out there every Wednesday before home games and kick. I think that’s been a huge advantage for us. You’ve got to conquer those elements.”

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