A 48-yard field goal left wide right at Lambeau Field would be an innocuous circumstance if not for it being a Minnesota Vikings’ kicker missing the kick. Daniel Carlson, the rookie fifth-round pick, is following in a line of trouble at kicker in recent seasons.
When Carlson missed wide right from 49 yards in overtime, the uneasiness grew. This was the kicker in which Minnesota staked its hopes; a roster built to contend for the Super Bowl needing a rookie to hit the important kicks and end the sordid history of the position for the Vikings.
When Carlson missed for a third time – wide right again from 35 yards as time expired in overtime – apprehension turned to outright queasiness and the questions about Minnesota’s kicker only intensified.
“It’s too early,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of decisions about Carlson’s future. “(General manager Rick Spielman) and I will sit down tomorrow and we’ll talk about it. My job is to evaluate everything that happened today, whether it was the running game or the defense or the passing game or kicking game. So, we’re going to evaluate all of it.”
The Vikings tied the Green Bay Packers 29-29 on Sunday in a game in which new quarterback Kirk Cousins had thrown for 425 yards and four touchdowns, giving Minnesota the quarterback to challenge Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
Quarterback looks settled for the Vikings, but the kicking situation remains worrisome.
“It feels terrible,” Carlson said. “Obviously, I let my team down. Credit to them. They fought back time and time again, gave me opportunities and I just didn’t execute at the end of the day. It’s disappointing for me just personally. The team fought so hard and stuff. Luckily, at least we ended up with a tie, but we expect to win that and I expect to make those kicks to win the game for the team.”
Carlson was the 6-foot-4, big-legged rookie from Auburn. Distance isn’t an issue for Carlson. Consistency has been, or maybe it’s the pressure. Carlson told reporters after the game that the third kick might have had to do with confidence.
“That last one was probably more just something with the confidence after missing twice earlier,” Carlson said. “That’s frustrating and obviously a shorter one, I should never miss like that.”
Carlson slipped to 74.2 percent on his field-goal attempts in his final collegiate season at Auburn, but Minnesota’s coaches believed they could help him find his form. Just like Blair Walsh before him, an inconsistent senior season didn’t stop the Vikings from drafting Carlson.
Walsh dazzled in his rookie season in the NFL, including a 10-for-10 mark from 50 yards and beyond. Later, Walsh’s consistency waned and his tenure in Minnesota is exemplified by his 27-yard miss in a playoff loss to Seattle that would have won the game.
Kai Forbath replaced Walsh midway through the next season in 2016. Forbath’s 2017 season, in which he made 84 percent of his field goals but missed five extra-point attempts, led the Vikings to draft Carlson.
The two competed in training camp but there was no surprise that Minnesota went with the rookie it spent a draft pick on. Carlson then missed two preseason field-goal attempts after the Vikings jettisoned Forbath.
NFL players really never know how to feel after a tie. A tie after coming back in Lambeau Field against the rival Packers after trailing 20-7 in the third quarter is particularly tough.
“It’s disappointing when you’ve got an opportunity to win the football game there at the end and you come up with a tie,” Zimmer said. “It’s better than a loss, obviously, but I’m proud of the guys that we fought. We just need to continue to tighten some things up when we go on the road and play a good football team.”
Zimmer said he had believed Carlson was going to make the possible game-winning kick at the end of overtime. After Cousins connected with Stefon Diggs for a first down at the 30-yard line with 1:17 remaining, Minnesota ran Latavius Murray up the middle twice to set up Carlson.
“Guys are supposed to do their jobs,” Zimmer said. “Maybe we should have thrown the ball in the end zone a couple times at the end, but I believed that the guy was going to make the kick. He said, ‘Put it in the middle of the field,’ and it was dead-smack in the middle.
“In practice every day, he drills them. So that’s a disappointing thing for me. We come out here and we do that. But we almost had a punt blocked last week, we got one this week. So, we’re going to be cranking on this special teams good now.”
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings