For the most part in the NFL, kickers are like small children at an adult dinner party – they’re occasionally seen, but not heard from all that much. They spend much of the game in the shadows and not in the middle of the conversation.
But, when kickers are called upon, their job is as important as any of the other 44 players on a game-day roster. Often times, a game can hang in the balance with their success or failure.
No team has been in the spotlight more than the Minnesota Vikings in that regard. Fed up with the numerous misses by Blair Walsh – four of 16 field goals and four of 19 extra points in nine games – the team reluctantly released Walsh and signed kicker Kai Forbath.
Coming in on Wednesday and being asked to be in midseason form, Forbath said the process of coming to a new organization had its share of challenges, but after his first field goal – ironically from 27 yards, the same distance as Walsh’s epic playoff miss – he said it felt comfortable and like old times.
“It was an adjustment,” Forbath said. “The big thing to me was getting that first one through. It felt real good and felt pretty good from that point.”
The NFL set a modern-era record with 12 missed extra points Sunday – a mammoth number when compared to the old extra point distance. In 2014, the last time extra points were basically from 20 yards out, in the entire season all 32 teams combined to miss just eight extra points.
They exceeded that season-long total in an 11-hour span Sunday and even veteran kickers like Forbath were at a loss to explain why.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Forbath said. “If you look at the percentage of kicks made, actually field goals from that range are a lot better. I don’t know if it’s mental or what was going on around the league, but it was pretty surprising to see.”
Forbath was one of the kickers on that inauspicious list, but he didn’t hook one left, push one right or bonk one off the uprights. His was blocked by Arizona defensive back Justin Bethel.
Watching a replay of the kick, Forbath said everything looked normal from the mechanical perspective, but that Bethel just used his athleticism to loop around the edge and get a hand in the flight path of the ball as it left Forbath’s foot.
“The operation was good,” Forbath said. “(Bethel) just came off the edge and made a great play.”
[LIKE VIKING UPDATE ON FACEBOOK]
For decades, it was news if a kicker missed an extra point. It became so automatic that often defensive teams gave a half-hearted effort to block kicks because the ball typically gets lifted so quickly that jumping is futile and could often lead to penalties if they jumped up and came down on the center or one of the interior linemen.
But, pushing the extra point back to being the equivalent of a 33-yard field goal has made a big difference in how many of the kicks are executed because, while they have become much more difficult, the expectation of making every attempt has remained the same.
“You didn’t used to (feel pressure), but now backed up, it’s little bit more because you’re still supposed to make them every time,” Forbath said. “It really does change the game when you don’t.”
With the microscope on his every move Sunday, it would have been easy for Forbath to feel some of the pressure of being automatic on his kicks, but he said that having the familiarity of being surrounded by two UCLA teammates – long snapper Kevin McDermott and holder Jeff Locke – helped ease the changing of the guard midstream at kicker.
It’s never easy coming to a new team and being asked to take over the job of someone who had held it down for years, but Forbath said he’s felt no pressure or distancing of his teammates, which he credits to the comfort level he had with Locke and McDermott.
“I’m just trying to do my job,” Forbath said. “I’m here to score points when we need them. Luckily, I know Jeff and Kevin from college, so this has been a very, very easy transition here. It’s been great. Everybody’s been very welcoming and nice.”
As the Vikings play the first game of Week 12 Thursday at Detroit, there will be a lot of eyes on the kickers coming off a historically bad week for them as a group. For fans who were following along with the action, they were able to count them up as the number continued to balloon. For guys like Forbath, he didn’t find out about it all until after his game was done and the number was nearing double digits.
Was it a one-week aberration? Forbath thinks so because the odds of that many kicks being missed doesn’t make sense and likely won’t be repeated again. But, he was quick to admit that he was stunned when he first heard the news about so many kickers missing extra points on the same day.
“Absolutely I was shocked,” Forbath said. “These are great kickers that have been missing a few. I honestly do know what’s going on with them, whether it’s technique or mental, but it was shocking.”