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Jason’s Blog: Yes, blame Walsh

The NFL wanted a missed kick to be a huge factor in a big game in 2015.

But even they didn’t think it would be a 27-yarder.

It seems like every offseason involves the NFL making a fundamental change to its rules, almost out of boredom, as I guess they can’t leave the world’s most popular sport well enough alone. Last offseason it was the kickers who were in the crosshairs.

It started with the Pro Bowl, where the league narrowed the uprights by a few inches on each side. This adjustment aided in veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri missing an extra point in the third quarter of the meaningless exhibition.

The league wasn’t satisfied. It determined that to cause headaches for kickers, they needed to move the line of scrimmage for PATs back to the 15-yard line, making it a 33-yard attempt. The adjustment worked as kickers were missing PATs left and right (pardon the pun) in 2015.

In Sunday’s NFC Wild Card round between the Vikings and Seahawks, the kickers for each team had missed a combined nine PATs in the regular season (five by Seattle’s Steven Hauschka and four by Minnesota’s Blair Walsh). It was speculated that in sub-zero temperatures teams would opt for going for two-point conversions in the game, but the only touchdown scored, a 4-yard pass by Seattle in the fourth quarter that cut Minnesota’s lead to 9-6, preceded a successful PAT by Hauschka.

Hauschka followed that up with a 46-yard field goal, which gave the Seahawks a 10-9 lead later in the frame. These connections came after Minnesota’s Walsh hit from 22, 43 and 47 yards. So despite the NFL’s best efforts, field goals were no problem Sunday.

Until the end.

By now you know the outcome. For me, it was strangely similar to January 1999, when I sat with buddies at Big Ten Restaurant in Stadium Village on the U of M campus as Gary Anderson lined up for a 38-yard field goal, from the left hash, with the rear endzone camera giving us the angle on TV. Anderson pulled the kick to the left and stomachs fell.

Yesterday it was from 27 yards out. It was the left hash. It was the rear endzone camera view on TV. And it was yanked wide left again. I swear as I’m typing this when I saw the holder setting up on the left hash from that back endzone camera angle just before Walsh’s attempt, that Anderson kick 16 years earlier immediately came to mind.

The differences are subtle but not substantial — Anderson’s kick prevented the Vikings from almost certainly sealing a berth in the Super Bowl, while Walsh’s kick merely would’ve won a Wild Card playoff game. But the other difference is 27 yards.

Go ahead and pile on Walsh with civility. I know there are crazy NFL fans who say reprehensible things and I won’t dignify that junk with a mention. I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you’re not in that category. The fact is that kick can’t be missed — 189 of 191 NFL field goals from 27 yards and in were made in 2015. That’s 99 percent.

Walsh struggled early in the year, had his GM Rick Spielman assure everyone that he was going to be the Vikings’ kicker, had a much better second half of the season, but the fact is he’s an NFL kicker who was shaky from close range and the team rolled with him.  That’s a no-no.

So I don’t want to hear about an offense that settled for field goals or another playoff fumble by Adrian Peterson or how without Walsh’s nine points the Vikings never would’ve been in position to win that game. None of that matters — those are mindless diversions from the real point that made the difference between a win and a loss — a missed gimmie. This is a PGA golfer missing a two-foot putt for a major championship.

You’re not talking about the tee shot that went out-of-bounds on No. 11 when that happens.

It’s on Walsh, folks. He’s a pro athlete who will be just fine; it’s okay to pin it on him. And I’m not one of these guys who will demand that we eliminate field goal kicking in football. I love field goals. I loved it when Fuad Reviez broke the all-time consecutive FG made streak in the ’90s. I loved it when Anderson had a perfect regular season in 1998. I love kicking field goals myself. It’s a fun part of the game.

I just prefer them to be made when it’s my team and the kick is for the win in a playoff game, from 27 yards away.

Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays at 3:50PM on KRFO-AM 1390 and the free RadioPup app.  Leave a comment below and follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.

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