Dan Bailey looked like the loneliest man in the world walking back to the sideline after missing his fourth kick of the game in Tampa. The Minnesota Vikings kicker, who would move from the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history to the sixth.
In a normal year, there would be six retreads lined up at practice the next day, ready to take his spot. But in our COVID universe, where teams have to take extra precautions to avoid outbreaks at their facilities, Bailey may have gotten a break that benefits both him and the team.
We all know the sordid details when it comes to the Vikings and kickers. Gary Anderson’s miss against the Atlanta Falcons in 1998. Blair Walsh’s Shank at the Bank against the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. Even Daniel Carlson’s three misses against the Green Bay Packers in 2018, which resulted in his release and an opportunity for Bailey in Minnesota.
Perhaps Mike Zimmer is too tough on kickers. Maybe the Vikings are cursed. Kickers are also volatile, given the technical skill it takes to repeatedly strike the ball accurately and the mental strength it takes to shake off a miss at a critical juncture of a game. It’s probably a combination of all three.
Whatever it is, it bit Bailey. Hard.
It wasn’t just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, either. A week earlier he missed a field goal and went 1-for-3 on extra points against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Minneapolis. The Vikings labored to pull out a 27-24 win over a team that likely will end up with the No. 1 overall pick this year.
The game ended with them inching towards the goal line in overtime with Dalvin Cook, a player they should probably be careful with given his injury history and setting up Bailey with a chip shot. He made it, but the whole ordeal could not have been good for his psyche. He had to know they didn’t trust him.
If we’re being honest, after that performance the Vikings would have been justified trying out kickers. Because they would have to test positive, they wouldn’t compete for Bailey’s spot until after the game in Tampa Bay. If he had gone 0-for-4 (three field goals, one extra point) with that hanging over his head, it would have made more sense. But given the trust the team put in him, it seemed like he’d just had a mental collapse — akin to what Walsh, who was great until missing a 27-yarder in the playoffs, experienced but to a lesser degree.
But then former Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell came out in his defense. “You see one kick left and three right. I see it as one issue. He’s a little out of position at the ball. It’s easily fixable,” he told the Star Tribune. “It’s a similar problem to what Daniel Carlson had in that game against the Packers. It’s fixable physically.”
Carlson never kicked for the Vikings again, but he’s become a reliable kicker for the Las Vegas Raiders, who signed him after his release. While it’s easy to blame Bailey for the Tampa game, his struggles against both Florida teams might be on Marwaan Maalouf and special teams staff. After all, it’s a unit that has struggled all year, and the breakdowns could include coaching up the kicker — even if he’s a veteran.
He’s been fine since the Tampa Bay game. He was perfect in the loss to the Chicago Bears (two field goals, three PATs), but did miss an extra point against the New Orleans Saints. The Detroit Lions game is virtually meaningless, and in fact, they should probably lose the game to get better draft position. Bailey is questionable to play with a back injury, but if he doesn’t, at least he won’t have a confidence-deflating performance heading into the offseason.
Maybe Bailey, 32, isn’t the kicker of the future, and all this won’t matter. But for a player who has been one of the most accurate kickers in the league and plays a position where guys last until their late-30s or even 40s, maybe he becomes a reliable long-term solution like Longwell was in the late 2000s.