The NFL is not just a quarterback's league. It's a kicker's league, too, and the evidence was there again Monday night when the difference between Detroit and Chicago was ... yep, two Robbie Gould field goals.
So what's new? Everywhere you look this season, someone is splitting the uprights. And it's often from 50 yards and beyond. It doesn't make a difference who it is -- rookies, veterans, free agents, you name it -- they're drilling three-pointers at an alarming rate, and I offer last weekend's results as evidence.
In Oakland, Sebastian Janikowski won an overtime game for the Raiders with a 40-yard field goal -- his fourth kick of the afternoon -- while in New England, Stephen Gostkowski did the same thing for the Patriots in OT. Only his game-winning kick was 48 yards -- and it was his second in two series.
|More on NFL|
|More NFL coverage|
Yeah, I know, it happens. But it's happening all the time. According to the NFL, through the first seven weeks of this season, kickers hit 370 of 422 field-goal attempts, which works out to an 87.7 percentage rate of success. That's not only astounding, it's a league record waiting to happen -- with the 2008 season (84.5) and 2011 (82.9) the previous highs. My question is: Why?
"It's evolving," said one AFC special-teams coach. "There's no question kickers are stronger and more accurate and more athletic. It's a little bit like the Roger Bannister syndrome. Once he broke the four-minute mile, then it seemed everyone was doing it. But I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon yet. I want to wait until the end of the season before I come to any conclusions."
Not me. I come to them every time I see someone wheel out a kicker for another field goal of 50 or more yards. No, make that 60 or more. The Raiders last weekend called on Janikowski at the end of the fourth quarter to try a 64-yarder -- a kick that would've set a league record -- and nobody blinked. That's because the guy already has a 63-yarder.
But so does San Francisco's David Akers, and he hit it this season. Arizona's Jay Feely nailed a career-long 61-yarder two games ago to send the Cardinals to overtime vs. Buffalo. Then there's Minnesota's Blair Walsh. He became the first rookie to hit field goals of 50 yards or more in each of his first three games.
Extraordinary, huh? Not really. Not in today's NFL. St. Louis kicker Greg Zuerlein is a rookie, too, and he became the first freshman to hit field goals of 60 and 50 yards in the same game. Moreover, he has five field goals of 50 or more yards through seven games -- the most by a rookie in any season. And I haven't even mentioned a guy named Austin Rehkow. That's because he doesn't play in the NFL or the NCAA. He's a senior kicker for Central Valley (Wash.) High and, last Friday, hit a 67-yard field goal to break the state record -- and prepare us for the next wave.
"I just think it's talent," said one NFC general manager. "The numbers speak for themselves. These guys have great confidence in themselves, and coaches are beginning to have confidence they can make kicks they once may not have tried."
Janikowski's attempt last weekend is Exhibit A. Earlier this year, Washington coach Mike Shanahan had Billy Cundiff try a 62-yarder at the gun to beat St. Louis. He missed, but that's not the point. Rather than have rookie Robert Griffin III take his chances on fourth-and-16 at the Rams' 44, Shanahan rolled the dice on someone whose career best was 56 yards, and, hey, why not? Feely hadn't nailed a field goal longer than 55 in his career before coach Ken Whisenhunt dialed his number at the end of the Buffalo game, and you know what happened there.
Call it an anomaly, if you will. I call it a trend, and I have the numbers to support it. Kickers this season have hit 42 of 63 attempts from 50 yards and beyond -- or 66.7 percent -- and think about that for a moment. Where once a 50-yard field goal was nothing more than a 50-50 proposition, now it's more like a sure thing -- with specialists improving on last year's all-time record of 64.3 percent of kicks made from 50 yards and out.
"The kickers are better, you're getting guys with strong legs with backgrounds in soccer and the surfaces and stadiums are better," explained one special-teams coordinator. "So the percentage of field goals is up."
All I know is that no one misses anymore. So while you consider how quarterbacks are taking over the NFL, maybe you should dig a little deeper into the roster. Because kickers are, too.