Football fans across the board have vented all season about the atypical slew of missed field goals and lack of kicking accuracy. The Chargers may have been an exception to this frustration, but after Sunday’s 17-14 loss to the New York Jets, San Diego fans are more deserving of sympathy than anyone.
The underdog Jets beat the Chargers after San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding, a 2009 All-Pro, missed three field-goal attempts in the AFC divisional playoff game. The first attempt from 36 yards was wide left. The second, from 57 yards, was too short to end the first half. In the fourth quarter, with the team down 10 points and needing their Goldilocks to make a 40-yard kick that was “just right,” missed with a kick that was literally wide right.
“I’ve had one of these rested on my shoulders before,” Kaeding told the New York Daily News. “Professionally, it’s a tough thing to get through. I’m not gonna feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for my teammates, coaches and support staff here. I feel like I let everybody down.”
Kaeding has fallen short of expectations in past playoffs. His most recent performance is evidence that history repeats itself and mirrors the Chargers-Jets wild-card game in 2005. Kaeding missed from 40 yards out in overtime in that game, and the Jets went on to a 20-17 win at Qualcomm Stadium.
But this dark cloud did not follow Kaeding for long. He’s made 150 of 172 field-goal attempts in his career for a success rate of 87.2 percent. This season, he made 32 of 35 attempts for a 91.4 conversion percentage, leading the league and breaking the team record. Prior to Sunday’s debacle, Kaeding had not missed a field goal within 40 yards in 69 consecutive attempts and had a streak of 20 consecutive made field goals to end the regular season.
“I am definitely motivated more by failure and going out there and embarrassing myself,” Kaeding told the San Diego Union-Tribune back in October, perhaps foreshadowing Sunday’s upset. “I always know I could have done better. … I also know there is going to be a lot of opportunities where I can make them.”
A kicker choking in football’s postseason is as common as a closer choking in baseball’s postseason, but has 2009 been a year riddled with terrible kicking accuracy and missed field goals?
The New York Times’ Judy Battista reported in December that NFL kickers had converted 80.5 percent of field-goal attempts this season, the lowest rate since 2003. Prior to the playoffs, Battista warned that if the kicking season did not improve, the 2009 season would see the biggest one-year drop since 1976, when accuracy was around 60 percent.
It looked like that trend has carried over to the postseason for some teams.
Even the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen (@richeisen) on his Twitter Page posted, “When can we [call] this officially the worst year ever for kickers? Now?”
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