Kicker feels he let teammates down
By Chris Jenkins, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 10:47 p.m.
K.C. Alfred / Union-Tribune
Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding walks toward the sideline after missing his third field goal against the Jets, in the fourth quarter.
Wide left? Wide right? Short? Did the snaps look good? The holds? Did the kicks look true off the foot, true clearing the line of scrimmage? Did it veer? Did it wobble?
“I really couldn’t tell you,” said Jacob Hester, a regular on Chargers special teams. “With Nate, sometimes I don’t even look. He’s that money.”
Meaning, the Chargers have grown so accustomed to place-kicker Nate Kaeding’s uncanny, near-incomparable accuracy on field-goal attempts from virtually any distance this season, they’re downright shocked by the sight of a referee crossing hands in front of him in the “not-good” signal.
But c’mon. Twice in one game? Three times?
In a playoff game?
“I’ve had one of these rested on my shoulders before,” said Kaeding after missing all three field-goal attempts in the 17-14 loss to the New York Jets. “Professionally, it’s a tough thing to get through. I’m not gonna feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for my teammates, coaches and support staff here. I feel like I let everybody down.
“It’s going to be a tough few months, but if you relish the good part, you‘ve gotta work through the bad as well. It’ll be tough. I’ll let this rest, then pick up the pieces.”
A very big piece of the picture is the other team, the Jets, who also were the opponent for the “one” miss that Kaeding talked about having to shoulder. That was the postseason of 2004, a 40-yarder in overtime that went awry and led to Kaeding misses in three of his next five playoff kicks.
“If you play this game and can only accept it when it goes well, you’re in the wrong business, especially in my position,” said Kaeding. “You’re going to miss some, unfortunately. Some days like this will come. My really bad days have been untimely ones.”
Fact is, Kaeding had kicked so well over the past couple years, that rough postseason stretch was virtually forgotten. Ancient history.
He’d established himself as the most accurate regular-season kicker ever in the NFL, making good on 150-of-172 for a success rate of 87.2 percent, and he hadn’t missed a try of any length since the first win of the Chargers’ 11-game streak. Kaeding had made 20 straight to finish the season, not missed once in 69 consecutive attempts from 40 yards or closer.
One kicker in the NFL, a guy who hit 32-of-35 overall, was named All-Pro for 2009 — Kaeding.
As much disappointment went through the Qualcomm Stadium crowd when Kaeding’s 36-yarder in the first quarter went wide left, then, there seemed an equal part disbelief. Although never considered one of the NFL’s boomers, Kaeding had hit a 57-yarder before, but there was little surprise when his shot from that distance at the end of the first half fell short.
Because the Jets had just taken a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, there was much more riding on the 40-yarder Kaeding missed to the right, particularly since the Chargers would score a touchdown on their next possession.
Asked if his first-quarter misfire had weighed on his mind, he admitted, “A little bit, but I’ve missed field goals before and come back and executed the next one. That’s part of the deal.”
Veteran long snapper David Binn tried to share the blame, saying he thought a couple of his deliveries arrived “laces-back instead of laces-out,” suggesting that might have affected the kicker’s rhythm. Kaeding would have none of that, insisting that the snaps and Mike Scifres’ holds were as spot-on as usual, saying he simply must not have put good swings on the ball.
Nor was there a lot of commiserating among them or dwelling on the earlier misses in the course of the game.
“You don’t want to keep on about it,” said Scifres. “You just let him deal with it, let him get through it.
“Nate’s as tough as anybody mentally. Just let him be and he’ll get through this.”
Elsewhere in the locker room, teammates wouldn’t hear of Kaeding’s misses costing them the playoff game.
Not when the Chargers had committed 10 penalties, dropped numerous passes, been intercepted twice, run for just 61 yards total and missed tackles.
“Super-uncharacteristic stuff,” said linebacker Shawne Merriman. “Nate’s such a great player, you just never see that happen.
“But when they do happen, we should find ways to overcome them, and we didn’t.”
Chris Jenkins: (619)-293-1267; firstname.lastname@example.org