No one wants to talk about kickers, or really seems to care about kickers, until your team really needs a kicker. Then, suddenly, kicking is everything.
Having no confidence in the ability to get three points is a literal game-changer, and blowing games because of missed chip shots and extra points can be the difference between making the playoffs or watching on TV. Already through just two weeks, and particularly through the prism of two teams, the grim realities of the kicking game have become overarching narratives.
The Chargers beat the Colts in Week 1, above all else, because despite getting outplayed in most phases, Colts kicking legend Adam Vinatieri missed two field goals that were routine throughout his career, and an extra point. That explained how that game got to overtime in the first place, and why the Chargers emerged with the victory.
And this week, it reversed, drastically, for Los Angeles. They tried to get by with punter Ty Long serving as their kicker, with Michael Badgley still hurting, and, well, it cost them the game. Long missed a field goal and an extra point and with the Chargers trialing by three in the fourth quarter in Detroit – in a game they should have already put away – it was obvious there was zero faith in connecting on a game-winning field goal from anywhere on the field.
Week 2 is in the books and there's a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down on the latest episode of the Pick Six Podcast. Listen to the full show below and be sure to subscribe right here.
Philip Rivers knew the game would have to be won or lost in his hands, chucking it around on second-and-long and third-and-long, with no semblance of running the ball or being balanced to try to set up a manageable kick. Because by this point, with frustration clearly mounting, nothing seems manageable and eventually the game would end with an interception deep in Lions territory – cuz of course it would.
If the Chargers miss the division, or miss the playoffs entirely, by a game, keep this in mind come January.
Meantime, the Colts won despite Vinatieri again struggling, in a game in which they could have put away the Titans sooner, or at least been in position to force Tennessee to need a touchdown to win, or at least a field goal to tie, rather than just a field goal to win. Vinatieri missed, badly, on another extra point attempt and there is a strong expectation at this point that the likely future Hall of Famer will retire on Monday. It's clear he's lost it, and he doesn't want to let his team down.
So the Colts will be on the hunt for a dependable leg at a time when so many teams are already relying on unproven commodities in the kicking game. Happy hunting. The position matters more than you might think.
Murray special in Cardinals loss
Kyler Murray was special in his first-ever road game in what can be a very difficult atmosphere in Baltimore. He never flinched and repeatedly, in the face of big blitzes by notorious schemer Wink Martindale, exploited the lack of bodies in the secondary for big gains. He was more than cool under pressure, wasn't too quick to scrap a play and use his legs, and led several expert scoring drives. He avoided a turnover in his road debut – that in and of itself is rare – and by the end of the game had nearly matched Lamar Jackson in the big play department.
The kid can play. A week after leading an improbable comeback to tie the Lions, this was a far greater chore on Sunday, and he looked sharper and more consistent throughout. He finished 25-for-40 for 349 yards and kept his team in a game that looked like it might go sideways early with Baltimore's offense humming. Yes, the Cards attack bogged down in the red zone and there were too many short field goals instead of touchdowns, but this was a playoff team he was facing, with an elite coaching staff, and Murray played like boss.
Big Ben struggles again without A.B.
We'll see how much time Ben Roethlisberger misses with an elbow injury, but the early returns for him post-Antonio Brown were troubling. The QB played six quarters of football before making way for Mason Rudolph, and it was ugly. When it came to throwing to his receivers, it was beyond ugly. How about this: 20-for-40 for just 204 yards (yeah, 5 yards per attempt and 10 yards per completion) with no touchdowns and one interception, and a rating of 54.6. Roethlisberger was 8-for-11 for 105 yards when throwing to JuJu Smith-Schuster and, gulp, 12-for-29 for 99 yards and an INT ( 36.42 rating). Yes, it's very early and the Steelers were facing two quality defenses in New England and Seattle, but the offense certainly looked better – especially in the downfield game – once Rudolph came in. If Rudolph has to run things for a few weeks it won't be the end of the world, and he has been the guy clicking with James Washington all summer. Washington has the best chance to emerge as the No. 2 to JuJu post AB, while veteran Donte Moncrief looks like a spare part thus far.
Packers are 2-0, but have work to do
The Packers are 2-0 with big-time wins over division opponents, but still very much look like a work in progress to me. They were pretty lucky to beat the Vikings Sunday, frankly, despite jumping up 21-0 very quickly at home. Those first three drives produced 21 points on 19 plays for 171 yards (pouncing on a missed field goal and a fumble by Minnesota). They ran 50 plays the rest of the day for just 164 yards (a staggering 3.28 yards per play) and no points and had the Vikings' kicking woes and an inexplicable jump-ball interception by Kirk Cousins deep in the fourth quarter to thank for their victory. The defense is certainly improved, but I still have reservations about this being a Super Bowl team.
More insider notes from Sunday
- Sean Payton may have a class-action lawsuit against the NFL's officiating department at this point. No reason in the world why Cam Jordan's fumble recovery for a TD was whistled dead. Brutal.
- The Ravens' coaches have been very confident they don't need proven pass rushers to generate more pressure and sacks than they had a year ago. Consider me still a massive skeptic. It's the potential Achilles heel of the team – the offense will be dominant – and they got three sacks on Murray. They didn't rattle the raw rookie and seem to need to sell-out with the blitz to get after it. Patrick Mahomes comes in next week.
- Give Round 2 of the Melvin Gordon v. Chargers saga to the holdout running back. His replacement, Austin Ekeler, was unstoppable on their early scoring drive, racking up 40 total yards and a touchdown in four touches. The rest of the game he had 19 touches for 93 yards and a crushing fumble at the Lions goal line.
- Props to Frank Reich, yet again, for sticking to his guns and being aggressive late in games. After Titans coach Mike Vrabel punted on fourth and very short from around his own 35 with four minutes left, trailing by two, Reich went for it from almost exactly the opposite side of the field with about two minutes left and picked it up. He has big trust in Jacoby Brissett, for good reason. And Marcos Mariota, well, I don't trust him and he is what he is at this point, but you'd like to think you could pick up a yard there with him …
- How are this many NFL playing surfaces this horrible and it's only mid-September? Seriously -- $15B or whatever in revenues every year and clumps of grass and dirt are coming up all over the place which could end someone's season or worse? Come on. Russell Wilson, a star baseball player who can slide with the best of them, should not nearly maim himself sliding at Heinz Field in Week 2. More attention – offseason and in-season – needs to be paid to this. No excuse for it and it's been going on far too long in too many stadiums.