What is it about Mike Zimmer and kickers?
The tendency of these specialists to meltdown — both young and old — under the crusty head coach continued on Sunday in spectacular fashion as Dan Bailey missed an extra point (wide left) and field-goal attempts of 36, 54 and 46 yards (all wide right) in the Vikings’ 26-14 loss at Tampa Bay.
By the time he missed his third field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter, it was impossible not to feel bad for the 32-year-old. It also was impossible not to wonder if he will still have a job on Monday afternoon as the Vikings attempt to decide what to do about a kicker who has lost all confidence.
How bad was Bailey’s day? The last player with at least three missed field goals and a missed extra point without a make of either was John Aveni of Washington, according to ESPN Stats & Information. You’ve never heard of Aveni? Don’t feel bad. His awful day came in 1961, when fans were used to seeing kickers consistently miss.
“We’ll just have to make a decision and go with it,” Zimmer said of Bailey’s future “I like the kid a lot. Like I said before, I’ve had tons of confidence in him. He’s had a very good year. He’s had a couple bad weeks now. But you know, we can’t throw away 10 points and things like that. It’s not just Dan Bailey. We gave up a 50-yard throw because a couple guys weren’t in the right place. You can’t do that either. If you guys want me to fire guys for making a mistake here, a mistake there, then we wouldn’t have any players. Let’s not put this all on Dan Bailey.”
It’s hard not to put much of this on Bailey and Zimmer knows that. Saying he’s had a couple of bad weeks is being kind. In a season where the Vikings’ special teams have been an adventure nearly every week, Bailey had been solid. He had made 10 of 12 field-goal attempts and 26 of 27 extra points entering last Sunday’s overtime victory against Jacksonville.
Bailey’s struggles began when he missed an extra-point attempt in the second quarter. He would miss another extra point and a potential game-winning 51-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Bailey had made a 48-yard kick earlier in the fourth before the Jaguars tied the score. But Zimmer’s faith in his kicker was so shaken that on the winning drive his preference was to not rely on Bailey’s foot. Zimmer almost got what he wanted, but a false start penalty at the Jacksonville 1 caused the coach to have Bailey kick a 23-yard field goal on third down from the 5. He made it.
Bailey, who entered Sunday as the sixth-most-accurate kicker in NFL history, was not so fortunate in Tampa. The Vikings scored on their second drive to take a lead but Bailey missed the extra point. Things only got worse. Bailey missed twice in the second quarter and then again in the fourth.
“I don’t know. I’m really disappointed,” Zimmer said. “I have a lot of faith in him, I have a lot of confidence in him. But these last two weeks have not been good. I love the kid, he’s a great kid, he’s very even-natured. I don’t know.”
Bailey isn’t the first kicker to fall apart since Zimmer took over in 2014. Blair Walsh was never the same after his 27-yard field-goal attempt late in regulation of a playoff game against Seattle in 2015 sailed wide left. The miss enabled the Seahawks to hang on for a 10-9 victory. Walsh ended up being placed on waivers in November 2016. Veteran Kai Forbath held the kicking job through the 2017 season, but Vikings general manager Rick Spielman decided to get creative and drafted Daniel Carlson out of Auburn in 2018.
Carlson had a big leg but a rough training camp. Carlson made his only field-goal attempt, a 48-yarder, and three extra points in Week 1 against San Francisco. But the following week, Carlson was wide right on three field-goal tries in a tie at Green Bay. He was out of a job the next day and has gone onto have success with the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Vikings decided to sign Bailey in part because he had spent seven seasons in Dallas and provided the type of veteran kicker whom Zimmer could tolerate. Bailey missed seven field goals and only one extra point in his first season in Minnesota, but returned in 2019 and missed only two field goals and four extra points. Bailey came across as a mild-mannered guy and did not seem like he would get rattled.
Bailey, though, is clearly rattled and one has to wonder if the Vikings will allow him to continue working through his struggles. The Vikings have Tristan Vizcaino, 24, on their practice squad, but the former Washington Huskies kicker has never appeared in an NFL game. He spent training camp with the Bengals. There are other potential candidates to take over the kicking duties for the Vikings in their final three games of the regular season.
— Chris Long (@ChrisLongKSTP) December 13, 2020
The Vikings entered Sunday holding the seventh and final playoff seed in the NFC, but fell into the eighth spot, a game behind Arizona, after the Cardinals (7-6) beat the Giants. The Vikings (6-7) will play host to Chicago next Sunday, before traveling to New Orleans and Detroit to close the season.
The team’s playoff hopes aren’t dead, but took a large hit because of Bailey’s rough day. Will he get a chance to redeem himself or will Zimmer and the Vikings continue to play musical kickers? Don’t be surprised if it’s the latter.