LOS ANGELES, Oct. 6, 2015 — The fourth week of the NFL season was all about the kickers. Real football is offense and defense. Real football is also special teams.
Jan Stenerud is the only field goal kicker in the pro Football Hall of Fame. Adam Vinatieri has four Super Bowl rings, winning two of the games himself on the final play. Scott Norwood kicked the miss heard around the world that was lampooned in the Jim Carrey movie “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Ray Finkle was fictional, but Garo Yepremian was a real character who nearly ruined the only perfect season in NFL history.
Twenty years ago the 1995 season saw one of the great kicker meltdowns and one of the all-time great commentator comments. The 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs were shocked at home by the 9-7 Indianapolis Colts when Chiefs kicker Lin Elliott missed three fourth-quarter field goals. The Chiefs lost 10-7 with Elliott’s final miss in the waning moments. Announcer and former player Paul Maguire cracked, “I hate kickers. They should be paid $50 a game.” He then lowered the amount to 25 cents. When his co-announcer tried to talk about Elliott’s lonely existence on the team, Maguire put in the dagger: “Well, it doesn’t matter because Lin Elliott’s not going to be a Chief next year.”
Elliott never kicked again in the NFL. On the two-decade anniversary of that debacle, several kickers this week may have played their final game with the teams that they suited up with.
Baltimore Ravens 23, Pittsburgh Steelers 20, OT — The Steelers jumped to a 20-7 lead in the Thursday night game. After Baltimore got within 20-14, everything came down to the kickers. Justin Tucker hit from 40 with 10 minutes left to get Baltimore within 20-17. Former Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee missed from 49 with 2 1/2 minutes left and from 41 with one minute left. The latter miss left just enough time for Tucker to hit from 42 to force overtime. In overtime, Pittsburgh faced fourth and one from the Baltimore 32. Mike Tomlin was not going to give his kicker a chance for redemption from 50 yards out. The offense stayed on the field, and Michael Vick threw high and incomplete. From 52 yards out with five minutes left in overtime, John Harbaugh did trust his kicker. Tucker delivered, and the Ravens had another tough win. Scobee was cut on Friday.
New York Jets 27, Miami Dolphins 14 — The London game was shown on the West Coast at 6:30 a.m. Dolphin coach Joe Philbin is so Caucasian and boring that he could be mistaken for an Englishman. His team was as inspired as British food. Three plays and less than 90 seconds into the game, Chris Ivory was in the end zone as the Jets raced to a 13-0 lead and were never seriously threatened. The Dolphins’ third straight loss had the Joe Philbin death watch reaching a fever pitch. He was fired Monday. Meanwhile, Jets fans then went to the local British pub to feast on Dolphins and chips.
Indianapolis Colts 16, Jacksonville Jaguars 13, OT — Andrew Luck was out injured for the first time in his career. Matt Hasselbeck was told that he could play while simultaneously collecting Social Security, so he started against the lowly Jaguars. Tied 13-13 with six seconds left, rookie Jaguars kicker Jason Myers came in for a 53-yard field goal try to give the Jaguars the win. The kick was no good, wide right. Midway through overtime, Myers had a chance to redeem himself from 48 yards out. Again, he was no good. With 4 1/2 minutes left in overtime, Adam Vinatieri had his chance from 27 yards out. He was good and the Colts had the ugly win. If Jaguars Gus Bradley is interested, Josh Scobee is available.
Atlanta Falcons 48, Houston Texans 21 — Politicians can be bad at everything and still spike the football and claim success. Football does not work that way. The Texans dominated the fourth quarter, scoring three touchdowns and coming close to a fourth one. This would be impressive if Houston had not entered the fourth quarter down 42-0. Devonta Freeman ran for three touchdowns and the Falcons had two fumble returns for touchdowns. On the final play of the game, looking to close the gap to 42-28, the Texans fumbled and the unbeaten Falcons returned it 84 yards for their final touchdown.
Carolina Panthers 37, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 — The 2014 and 2015 Buccaneers are not as bad as the squads from 1976 and 1977, but they are a few losses away from returning to the orange creamsicle days. A pair of Tampa turnovers gave the Panthers 10 quick points as Carolina raced to a 17-3 lead. Down 17-10 in the third quarter, the Buccaneers missed a short field goal. On the next play the Panthers scored on a freak play when a Carolina fumble was recovered by a Panthers teammate who raced 57 yards for a score. Instead of clinging to a 17-13 lead, the Panthers were up 24-10. Another Tampa turnover meant another short field for Carolina and a 31-10 Panthers lead, but the missed field goal was the turning point.
New York Giants 24, Buffalo Bills 10 — 25 years after Bill Parcells, Marv Levy and Scott Norwood, the Bills and Giants played in a less meaningful game. Then again, when Rex Ryan plays Tom Coughlin, the blood feud is out. Trailing 16-3 in the third quarter, the Bills drove 80 yards from their 10 to the Giants 10 only to use up six minutes and miss a 38-yard field goal. Buffalo got it back and on fourth and goal at the one, a pass from Taylor lost a yard. The best play of the game did not count. From his own end zone, Manning fired deep to O’Dell Beckham. Just like last year, Beckham made a ridiculous one-handed catch. This one was an incompletion since Beckham was way out of bounds. It was still better than anything the Jets did all game.
Chicago Bears 22, Oakland Raiders 20 — In truly useless statistics news, this was the third time these teams came down to the final play decided by a Chicago kicker in Chicago in a game the Raiders led 17-16. In 1994, Kevin Butler missed a 30-yard field goal as the Raiders hung on 17-16. In 1996, Jeff Jaeger, who had been cut by the Raiders before the season started, kicked four field goals, including the game winner for a 19-17 Bears victory. This year, it was Robbie Gould who leveled a 54-yarder as the Bears reclaimed the 19-17 lead. The Raiders came back and Sebastian Janikowski came in for a 41-yarder. Seabass hit it and the Raiders led 20-19. The Bears still had just over two minutes left against a suspect Oakland defense. The Raiders scored too early. With seven seconds left, Gould came in and nailed a 49-yarder to win it. Both kickers did their jobs. Seabass hit both of his field goal tries. Yet Gould, despite having an extra point blocked, was given three field goal tries. He made the most of his extra chance.
Washington 23, Philadelphia Eagles 20 — Republicans and Democrats both agreed that the government should shut this game down and impeach Jay Gruden and Chip Kelly. Washington blew a 13-0 lead and fell behind again 20-16 when Sam Bradford threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin. Despite having dated a Kardashian, Austin caught the ball. The Eagles new kicker Caleb Sturgis was brought in for the injured Cody Parkey. Sturgis made two field goals but missed a 33-yarder at the end of the half as well as a missed extra point. Washington cut Kai Forbath before the season and brought in Dustin Hopkins. Hopkins made all three of his field goal tries. Kirk Cousins threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon with only thirty seconds left, but Sturgis was the reason Washington had the win rather than needing a two-point conversion try merely to force overtime.
Cincinnati Bengals 36, Kansas City Chiefs 21 — The Bengals offense with Red Rifle Andy Dalton are clicking on all cylinders. The Chiefs with Alex Smith are dinking and dunking. Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos kicked seven field goals. The NFL record is eight field goals set by the late Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas in 2007. In that game his last kick was the game winner at the gun. In this game the Chiefs trailed the whole time. While Dalton was throwing deep bombs, the Chiefs as usual had to wait until a fourth quarter deficit before Smith was allowed to throw past the first down marker. The unbeaten Bengals failed to kick a single field goal. They were too busy scoring five touchdowns and giving up none.
San Diego Chargers 30, Cleveland Browns 27 — Rookie Browns kicker Travis Coons did his job, making four field goals. Rookie Chargers kicker Josh Lambo made his first two field goals. After the Browns tied the game 27-27 with 2:03 to play, Philip Rivers led the Chargers down the field. With less than ten second left, Lambo came in for a 39-yarder to win it. Lambo was no good, but there would be no overtime. Cleveland jumped offsides. Given another chance from 34, Lambo was good. These are the Browns.
Green Bay Packers 17, San Francisco 49ers 3 — The Packers dominated this series in the 1990s while the 49ers had the advantage in the 21st century. Now the 49ers are just a bad team. The Packers started out facing third and 11 at their own 19 when Aaron Rodgers was sacked. Yet illegal contact on the defense kept the drive going and Rodgers eventually hit his non-relative Richard
Rodgers for a nine-yard touchdown. In the third quarter John Kuhn got in from one yard out as the Packers led 14-3. The unbeaten Packers rely on their explosive offense, but on this day they won with suffocating defense.
Denver Broncos 23, Minnesota Vikings 20 — Trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a 38-yard field goal. One play later. Ronnie Hillman broke free for a 72-yard touchdown run. Rather than 3-3, it was 10-0 Broncos. Minnesota twice overcame 10-point deficits as Walsh hit from 33 to tie the game 20-20 with five minutes left. Gary Kubiak has installed a new offense that is meant to emphasize the run. Yet with the game on the line, this team still relies on Peyton Manning. The field general led the Broncos down the field and Brad McManus hit a 39-yard field goal with 1:51 to play for the lead. McManus went three for three while Walsh went two of three. That was the difference. Denver has been winning ugly, but they are 4-0 and in command of the AFC West.
St. Louis Rams 24, Arizona Cardinals 22 — Chandler Catanzaro made five field goals for the Cardinals, but this was a case of too few touchdowns. Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes as the Rams built a 24-15 fourth-quarter lead. Carson Palmer threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to David Johnson to get Arizona within two points with exactly 4:44 to play. The Cardinals took their last timeout with 1:17 to play and the Rams facing third and 12 from the Arizona 38. Rams running back Todd Gurley is only a rookie, but he made a big veteran play. He broke through, got the first down, and was on his way to the end zone. Instead of scoring, he unselfishly laid down at the eight yard line. A touchdown with a missed extra point could have given the Cardinals a chance to tie the game. By not scoring, the Rams took a knee and ran out the clock to knock the Cardinals from the ranks of the unbeaten.
New Orleans Saints 26, Dallas Cowboys, OT — Trailing 20-13 late and backed up to their own nine-yard line with four minutes left, Brandon Weeden went to work. Just past the two-minute warning, the Cowboys faced fourth and seven at the Saints 17. Before Jerry Jones could get Tony Romo out of his wheelchair and into the game, Weeden lobbed a pass to the end zone for the tying touchdown with 1:51 left. Drew Brees went into superhero mode and moved the Saints. With 16 seconds left, Zack Hocker came in for the 30-yard field goal to win it. Hocker doinked it off the upright no good as the stunned Superdome crowd braced themselves for overtime. The Saints won the overtime coin toss. On the second play from scrimmage, Brees went deep to C.J. Spiller for an 80-yard touchdown. Only 13 seconds into overtime, Brees’s 400th career touchdown pass got the Saints their first win of the year.
Seattle Seahawks 13, Detroit Lions 10 — Steve Hauschka made field goals of 52 and 51 that provided the margin of victory, but this game was about defense. With the Seahawks leading 13-3 with 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation, Russell Wilson got belted. The resulting fumble was returned 27 yards for a touchdown as the Lions were only down 13-10. The Lions got it back with 6 1/2 minutes left. Despite being stopped all game, Matthew Stafford moved the Lions from their own nine-yard line to a third and one at the Seattle 11 with 1:51 to play. Stafford found Megatron Calvin Johnson near the goal line. As Johnson lunged for the end zone, Kam Chancellor punched the ball out. The resulting fumble went through the back of the end zone for a touchback as the Lions remained winless. The Legion of Boom had done it again.