'A Bit More Pressure' Cracking Kickers During Playoffs
"It's a little bit more pressure," the Indianapolis Colts' kicker said Friday.
So that could explain why Cincinnati kicker Shayne Graham missed both field goal attempts in the Jets' 24-14 wild-card victory over the Bengals.
Or why San Diego's first-team Pro Bowler and All-Pro Nate Kaeding -- a guy who had not missed from inside 40 yards in 69 consecutive tries -- completed the trifecta of gut-twisting whiffs (wide left, short, wide right) from 36, 57 and 40 yards, respectively, in the Jets' 17-14 divisional upset of the No. 2-seeded Chargers.
But why are kickers overall having a rough time in the 2009 NFL playoffs, making only 57.7 percent of their attempts (15 of 26)?
Graham and Kaeding did their part to bring down the curve, as did likely erstwhile Cowboys kicker Shaun Suisham, the late-season replacement for accuracy-challenged Nick Folk. Suisham, who was 4-of-7 overall with his new team, connected on only 1-of-3 field goal attempts indoors at the Metrodome in Dallas' divisional loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Stover, who was signed by the Colts on Oct. 14 to replace injured kicking ace Adam Vinatieri, has no easy answer for the poor field goal percentages across the league. But he said the intensity and pressure ramps up for all players in the postseason, and kickers feel it as much as anyone.
"It's kind of like going into the first game of the season, every game. It's do or die," said Stover, 41, who spent the past 13 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and might have joined Jets coach Rex Ryan in New York in 2009 if not for his loyalty to longtime friend (and Jets kicker) Jay Feely. "The first [playoff] game is usually a little harder than the second or the third.
"During the course of the playoffs, every kick -- every point -- makes a difference. The parity in the league is even tighter than it is during the course of the regular season. So you know that every extra point, every field goal, everything matters."
It's that mentality, Stover said, that makes him view a missed kick as a turnover, as well as valuable lost points for an offensively challenged team (uh, Chargers?) that may need every single one of them in the end.
"I've always thrived on that," Stover added with a laugh, "knowing the offenses I came from, in Baltimore, every point did matter. It wasn't like we were beating people 20-3 or 38-10. So I've been accustomed to that style of kicking, where everything matters. You can't miss."
So far, Stover has been rock solid in the playoffs, making both field goal attempts in the Colts' 20-3 divisional victory over his former team, the Ravens, and hitting 9 of 11 tries in the regular season.
Indianapolis no doubt misses the golden leg of Vinatieri, the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history (four Super Bowl rings), who made two game-winning kicks in the Super Bowl for the Patriots but was sidelined this season by surgery to repair damaged knee cartilage.
Stover owns the NFL record for consecutive games with a field goal, 38 (1999-2001) but was let go by Baltimore after the '08 season when he began to lose distance on kickoffs and longer field goal attempts. But his overall accuracy -- Stover's career field goal percentage of 83.7 percent is second-best in NFL history -- made him a can't-miss pickup for Indianapolis, coach Jim Caldwell said this week.
"It was a real blessing. Someone was doing their teams of the decade, and the No. 1 and No. 2 [kickers] were Adam and Matt," Caldwell said. "We couldn't ask for a better person to step in when Adam wasn't able to get back."