Dan Bailey turned to Britton Colquitt and said, “Man, I thought I really hit that good.”
That private conversation happened in a very public place — from the right hash mark facing the south end zone as 78,000 fans roared at Lambeau Field in Green Bay last Sunday.
The self-assured reaction came from Bailey, the nine-year NFL veteran who had just missed a 47-yard field goal attempt with Colquitt holding.
And while the Vikings left Lambeau for the second year in a row on Week 2 with more than one missed kick, there’s a big difference.
The team’s kicking situation is not in question.
The upheaval following last season’s tie — when rookie Daniel Carlson missed three field goals — resulted in Carlson’s being cut and Bailey’s signing on as a free agent.
Carlson, who returns to U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday as the Oakland Raiders kicker, lacked an embedded rhythm and technique as he struggled through the 2018 preseason, and then in Green Bay.
“I don’t think it’s going to be anything crazy,” Carlson told Oakland media this week. “It’s not some personal vendetta or something like that for me. It’s fun to write about, but it’s just as important as any other game.”
Carlson spent five weeks unemployed last season before the Raiders picked him up and adjusted his kicking approach. He’s since made 17 straight field goals.
Bailey has missed eight of 30 field goal attempts (one blocked) since replacing him, but the Vikings find solace in Bailey’s stoic and unwavering process rooted in years of seeing the ball soar through the uprights.
“He’s just a quiet demeanor with confidence,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He doesn’t get too high or too low about anything. Just that part of it. Every time I talk to him, he’s steady as a rock. Some of these guys are a little up and down, but he’s not like that.”
‘Process instead of outcome’
At Lambeau Field, Bailey’s pregame kicks beyond 45 yards into the south end zone kept drifting right.
Less than six minutes into the game, Bailey stood on the right hash marks sizing up a kick again.
“So I played it left-middle, like ‘OK, if I hit that line it’s just going to like fade back to the right,’ ” Bailey said of his 47-yarder. “I did, but then it just went the other way.”
He chalked it up to kicking an oblong ball susceptible to the slightest condition changes. Bailey, the eighth-most-accurate field goal kicker in NFL history at 86.3%, didn’t change a thing before making a 31-yard field goal and 33-yard extra point in the second quarter, nor before a blocked extra-point attempt that was from 48 yards out because of a penalty.
“If I had to do it again,” Bailey said of the first-quarter miss, “I’d probably hit the same ball. It just didn’t go in.”
That’s the reaction identifiable in successful kickers, according to mental performance consultant Cindra Kamphoff, who works with college and NFL kickers.
“I talk to a lot of kickers about this idea of focusing on process instead of outcome,” said Kamphoff, professor in sport and performance psychology at Minnesota State Mankato. “Usually the guys who are most consistent know exactly what their process is. They trust their process because they’ve worked on it so much. We want to make sure we’re attached more to ‘Was my process accurate?’ than ‘Did the ball go through the uprights?’ ”
Too often Bailey missed the uprights in training camp, where the Vikings coaching staff rotated long snappers and holders. But he still won the job with a perfect 9-for-9 preseason while trading off with training camp acquisition Kaare Vedvik.
“I applaud Dan for riding through the storm,” said former kicker Ryan Longwell, who played 15 NFL seasons for the Packers and Vikings. “When you’re getting into the last couple weeks [of preseason] and you’re still switching out snappers, holders and not getting every rep — that’s a huge deal.”
Carlson the ‘iceman’
Longwell, now 45 and residing on the West Coast, called the Vikings front office a year ago and offered to help Carlson after his three misses at Lambeau Field. He saw a young kicker “jamming” himself up by trying to kick each field goal harder. Instead of calming down and reverting to a proven routine, Carlson showed signs of pressing. He dropped his head lower on each miss, according to Longwell. The Vikings said thanks but no thanks and cut him.
Carlson has since made 18 of 19 field goals and 22 of 22 extra points, claiming a shortened approach has been easier to replicate with his 6-foot-5 frame.
“It also says something he was able to get back on the horse and swing away,” Longwell said. “Once you start making a few kicks as a young guy, then you start finding a rhythm. You start finding out what works and what doesn’t. You start getting a little more confidence.”
Carlson said high expectations for the season were part of the Vikings’ explanation for cutting him.
“They had the season going forward and didn’t feel I was going to be the guy they wanted to go hopefully into the playoffs,” Carlson said. “They had those expectations.”
Zimmer told the Star Tribune in August that “I probably should’ve kept” Carlson. Zimmer says he’s learned to be more patient with the Vikings’ kicking operation.
Carlson has been “an iceman” for the Raiders, coach Jon Gruden said.
“He’s been really calm,” Gruden said. “I don’t coach him very much. When the ball goes through the uprights every time, I just congratulate him.”
Carlson insisted he can’t make his return to Minnesota anything out of the ordinary.
“Part of the kicking job is being steady; you don’t want your emotions to get too high or low,” Carlson said. “This game is the same as any other game, that’s how I’m treating it. For me to do my best is to be the same kicker I am at practice and every other rep.”