More than one person appearing on SKOR North’s “Vikings Ventline” YouTube show Sunday suggested that Mike Zimmer’s biggest coaching mistake in a brutal 34-33 loss in Arizona, was allowing Greg Joseph to attempt the potential winning field goal with four seconds left. This despite the fact it was only a 37-yarder and Joseph was brought in during the offseason in hopes of solving one of the greatest issues during Zimmer’s time in Minnesota: The inability of his kickers to do their job.
This apprehension would have seemed ludicrous to most fanbases in professional football, but with Vikings kickers, especially when Zimmer is involved, the foreboding is always warranted. That was most definitely the case Sunday as Joseph’s attempt sailed wide right and the Vikings dropped to 0-2 after losing a game in which Kirk Cousins and the offense was mostly fantastic.
What made it even more painful was that around the same time Joseph was missing his kick, the Tennessee Titans were getting a 36-yard game-winning field goal from Randy Bullock to upset Seattle in overtime, and Greg Zuerlein was hitting a 56-yard field goal as time expired to give Dallas a 20-17 victory over the Chargers.
Joseph joins Blair Walsh, Daniel Carlson and Dan Bailey as kickers who have caused Vikings fans to cover their eyes when they trot onto the field at a key point in the game. The complete distrust of kickers in the Upper Midwest began on Jan. 17, 1999, when Gary Anderson missed a 38-yard attempt wide left with 2 minutes, 18 seconds remaining in the 1998 NFC title game. Anderson hadn’t missed a kick all season and a field goal would have put the Vikings up by 10 points. Instead, the Falcons rallied to win in overtime on Morten Andersen’s field goal from the same distance Gary Anderson had missed.
But the Zimmer era, which began in 2014, has brought kicker angst to a new level and what’s most frustrating is that general manager Rick Spielman has never put an end to it by signing the best veteran kicker he can. Instead, Spielman seems to get cute with a position at which there is little margin for error. Zimmer, meanwhile, has little patience with kickers, whose craft is more comparable to golf than it is football.
Walsh, Carlson and Bailey all melted down under Zimmer, with Walsh and Carlson getting their walking papers during the season. Walsh’s career took a wrong turn in the first round of the 2015 playoffs when his 27-yard field-goal attempt with 26 seconds left in regulation sailed wide left at TCF Bank Stadium and enabled Seattle to leave with a 10-9 victory. Walsh was never the same and ended up being released in November 2016.
Carlson was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 draft and brought in to replace Kai Forbath, who was solid on field-goal attempts but less than spectacular on extra points (84.9 percent). Carlson had a big leg and Spielman figured he would be fine kicking for Zimmer. He wasn’t. Carlson was released after missing three field goals in a tie against the Packers at Lambeau Field and replaced by Bailey, who had spent seven seasons kicking for the Dallas Cowboys.
So what’s happened to Carlson? He’s only become one of the NFL’s best kickers with the Las Vegas Raiders. Last season, Carlson made 33-of-35 field-goal attempts and 45-of-47 extra-point attempts. On Sunday, Carlson made four field goals and two extra points in a 26-17 victory at Pittsburgh. He is perfect on field goals (6-for-6) and extra points (5-for-5) this season.
Bailey, meanwhile, doesn’t have a job after being jettisoned by the Vikings during the offseason. That came after he missed seven of 22 field-goal attempts and six extra points in 2020. The main issue was a terrible five-game stretch and included a 26-14 loss in Tampa Bay in which Bailey missed three field-goal attempts and an extra point.
Instead of making a real investment in a kicker the Vikings signed Joseph to a one-year, $780,000 contract after he spent last season with the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. The only catch to that was he was on the practice squad as a backup to veteran Ryan Succop.
Joseph, 27, hadn’t kicked in an NFL game since 2019, when he made nine extra points and kicked off 11 times in two games for the Tennessee Titans. He hadn’t attempted a field goal since 2018 with the Browns and yet the Vikings thought they had found the solution in the bargain bin. Joseph made 4-of-6 field-goal attempts in the preseason, missing wide right from 51 and 52 yards, and hit on all three of his extra points.
In the Vikings’ season-opening loss at Cincinnati, Joseph made a 53-yarder as time expired in regulation and he also was 3-for-3 on extra points. The problem for Vikings kickers is a good start doesn’t mean trouble isn’t around the corner. Just ask Walsh, Bailey and even Carlson, who was perfect in his first game for the Vikings before falling apart at Lambeau Field.
The first sign of trouble for Joseph on Sunday came when he missed an extra point wide right after the Vikings had taken a 20-7 lead in the second quarter. His two long field goals followed that and seemed to get things back on track. That was until the moment that could have evened the Vikings record at 1-1 and given them a tremendous amount of confidence heading into the home opener next Sunday against Seattle.
It was at that point that fans were wondering why Zimmer didn’t have Cousins take a shot into the end zone, or get the ball closer, after K.J. Osborn caught an 8-yard pass with 41 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Instead, Zimmer allowed the clock to get down to 4 seconds, called a timeout and sent Joseph onto the field. Across Minnesota, Vikings fans were wondering if Zimmer hadn’t seen the same movie they had so many times in his previous seven-plus seasons.
Joseph’s presence on the field was the same as the kid who decides to go into the basement in a horror movie. It’s not going to end well and everyone knows it. Everyone except the kid in the movie, or Zimmer in a Vikings game.
As Joseph’s kick missed wide right he grabbed his helmet and Vikings fans dropped a few choice words and nodded knowingly. The only question now is whether Joseph’s miss will send him into the patented Vikings kicker spiral, or whether he can pull himself together.
Vikings fans might hope for the latter, but they know they are likely to be dealing with the former. Hey, at least Spielman got a good deal on Joseph, right?