Ryan Longwell (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Ryan Longwell has been one of the league’s most accurate kickers, but he has missed a field goal each of the last two games. That was only part of the problem in Chicago. The winds of Soldier Field and skills of Devin Hester played havoc with the Vikings’ special teams.
Ryan Longwell led the NFL in field goal percentage last season. He’s one of the most accurate kickers in league history.
So it’s always strange to see Longwell miss, which happened to the Minnesota Vikings in each of the past two games.
The Vikings have become so accustomed to Longwell’s reliability, the veteran kicker’s missed field goals in consecutive games was quite surprising. As he prepares to play his former team, the Green Bay Packers, Longwell tries to learn what he can from the shanks but keep his focus forward as any professional should.
Neither kick had an impact on the outcome, but watching the ball sail wide of the goal post is never a pleasant sight for the 15-year veteran.
“It’s no fun,” Longwell said this week.
After hitting 26 of his 28 field goal attempts in 2009, and 17 of 18 last year and his first eight this season, Longwell missed a 43-yarder on Oct. 9 during a blowout win over Arizona.
Then his 38-yard try tailed left in a swirling wind on Sunday at Chicago in a 39-10 defeat.
The snap by Cullen Loeffler and the hold by Chris Kluwe were fine, but Longwell’s rhythm was just off.
“You don’t overanalyze it, but at the same time you don’t just brush it off,” he said. “There’s something to be learned from every kick, make or miss, and I’ve certainly learned a lot from the last two weeks. I certainly don’t like missing kicks and don’t want to get into a habit of doing that.”
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he’s not concerned. Longwell has accounted for more points than any other player during his 15 years in the league, and his field goal percentage since 2009 is second only to Neil Rackers of Houston.
“Given the career and the success he’s had in the NFL, you don’t panic,” Priefer said. “You just try to figure out what you think might have gone wrong, and then you go from there.”
Kluwe had a rough day punting, too. He had an 18-yarder and a 24-yarder among his five kicks.
“They call it the Windy City for a reason,” Kluwe said. “It swirled the entire game, and it’s one of those things where you don’t want to make excuses, but it definitely played a factor in what happened.”
Priefer blamed the wind, but also the pressure of punting to star returner Devin Hester.
“We were really frustrated. We had a good plan and a good week of practice and when you don’t execute, Kluwe and I were both pretty frustrated after that,” Longwell said. “We want to do our job to help us win, and when we don’t it hurts us.”
That game was not one of Priefer’s proudest days. He faulted himself for the decision to kick off to Hester right after the Vikings had their first spark, from a touchdown early in the third quarter.
“I believe in our guys and really think we have a good kickoff cover team. We challenged him and lost that challenge unfortunately, and I’ll learn from that and move on,” Priefer said.
That was the first return for a score given up by the Vikings this year.
On the flip side, punt returner Marcus Sherels made a glaring mistake, too, calling for a fair catch at his own 5-yard line. He’s supposed to keep his toes at the 8 and get away from any ball that goes past that mark.
This was one of many points of emphasis in practice this week for Priefer.