Before the season began, Blair Walsh was Public Enemy No. 1 in Minnesota. He struggled through the team’s five preseason games, connecting on less than 50 percent of his attempts (5/11) while battling a nasty case of the “yips.” Field goals that usually sailed straight veered to the right, and routine PATs found their way outside of the uprights.
And when the Vikings opened 2015 in San Francisco, Walsh continued to let fans, and the team, down. He missed his first attempt of the year, and in a crucial road game against the Denver Broncos three weeks later, pushed a kick that was the difference between a loss and potential overtime victory.
Just three months after signing one of the most lucrative contract extensions among NFL kickers, the pressure was on Walsh to deliver. Since his last miss, Walsh has been perfect, making 13 consecutive field goals to offset the offense’s red zone struggles and lack of scoring.
In just eight games, Walsh has gone from a liability to cornerstone of this football team, a player Mike Zimmer can rely on in crucial situations. As Jeff Locke told the Star Tribune’s Jason Gonzalez two weeks ago, “no one ever really questioned Blair,” and their faith in their kicker is paying off:[quote_box_center]“Those are moments you dream about as a kid and what you work for every single week,” Walsh said. “To be put in those situations where the game’s come down to the wire and they depend on you.”[/quote_box_center]
Walsh’s 36-yard field goal as time expired sealed a 23-20 victory for the Vikings yesterday and helped Minnesota move to 5-2 on the season. Thanks to his suddenly automatic leg, Mike Zimmer and the Vikings are well on their way to the playoffs, and his consistency will be crucial in late-game situations against some of the league’s better teams moving forward.
When Walsh lined up for that final kick, I’m sure fans in the stadium and watching at home held their breath. Would he make the kick? Can we trust our kicker to win the game? Teddy Bridgewater’s nickname is “GUMP” (Great Under Major Pressure), but Walsh proved yesterday that he’s deserving of a similar title. In the face of a raucous fanbase, he split the uprights and quieted the “outside” noise.
Mike Zimmer, who rarely praises players publicly, expressed his confidence in Walsh after yesterday’s victory:[quote_center]”I knew he was going to make it,” said Zimmer. “The ball came off his foot good. You can tell when a guy is kicking the ball (well). There’s a thump to it, and he thumped it pretty good. It was dead down the middle.”[/quote_center]
This season, Walsh has made 17 of 19 field goals and 10 of 12 extra points, which is five percent higher than his success rate in 2014. He’s silenced the doubters and regained the trust of a fanbase that called for a kicker competition at the start of the season. More importantly, he’s back to his winning ways, making clutch kicks and putting points on the board when the offense struggles.
In Blair We (Surprisingly) Trust.