RENTON This a story about Blair Walsh.
For most of you the immediate--and only appropriate response--is: “Just kick it through the @*#% posts!” Beginning and end of story.
Not for Pete Carroll.
The Seahawks’ coach took a question about his slumping kicker four days before Sunday mammoth home test against the first-place Los Angeles Rams in what amounts to the NFC West championship game. And he made it a reaffirmation of faith in a man much of the Pacific Northwest has been vilifying for the last six weeks.
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“He’s a good kicker. He has a great leg. He has terrific mechanics, great habits, and his mentality stays strong,” Carroll said of the former Minnesota Viking the Seahawks signed last spring to get four years younger and $2.45 million cheaper than outgoing free agent Steven Hauschka.
“Yeah, he missed a couple here and there, but he is doing things right to give himself a chance,” Carroll said of Walsh.
“He’s our guy. That’s who we have. And we hope that he’s going to come through.”
On Thursday, I asked Walsh at his locker if he read or heard about Carroll’s words, and if so did he appreciate them.
“Oh, absolutely,” Walsh said, his eyes bright and voice sure. “He’s someone that sees you every day. He’s someone that know what you are about and sees what you can do on the field.
“Obviously, the last couple games haven’t gone the way I wanted to. But, you know, it’s nice to hear that from your coach. Absolutely.”
Walsh is of course infamous for missing the 23-yard field goal in arctic Minneapolis on Jan. 10, 2016, to gift the Seahawks a playoff win over his Vikings. Nine games into the 2016 season, Minnesota released its 2012 draft pick and NFL record setter, a former All-Pro with 10 consecutive makes from 50 yards or more. That was after Walsh missed four field goals, four extra points and was fouling up kickoffs. There was a belief in Minnesota he wasn’t mentally over missing that field goal against the Seahawks in the playoff game.
Then he began his Seahawks debut season 12 for 13 on field goals. The change of scenery--even the oddity of it being to Seattle, of all places--looked like it worked. But he’s gone 8 for 14 since. That includes misses wide left on attempts from 44, 34 and 49 yards in the first half of Seattle’s 17-14 home loss to Washington the Seahawks may end up regretting big-time when the playoffs arrive.
He missed again at the end of the first half last weekend at Jacksonville, from 38 yards to keep Seattle down 3-0 into the third quarter, before he connected from 28 yards in the 30-24 loss to the Jaguars.
Walsh is 20 for 27 this season on field goals.
Hauschka was 33 for 37 last season before the Seahawks let him sign with Buffalo. He is 22 for 25 for the Bills.
I asked Walsh if Carroll talked to him after the Washington game, or at halftime after he missed the kick at Jacksonville that would have tied that game.
“For the most part you are kind of just left alone,” Walsh said. “But he is real supportive, and that’s part of the culture here, to be supportive and figure out that brings the best out in guys.
“But it’s always nice when your head coach believes in you--because that’s how I feel about myself. I try not to get too up or down on results, and realize what I am capable of doing.”
When he talks--including his stand-up performance after that meltdown of an afternoon in that loss to the Redskins in early November--Walsh exudes self-assurance and professionalism.
And, no, he’s not locking himself in his home between games to avoid making eye contact with Seahawks fans, let alone talking to them.
On Tuesday he joined other Seahawks teammates in a visit to Seattle Children’s hospital for a holiday event in the playroom there.
For the kids who were too sick or fragile to travel outside their rooms downstairs to come see the players, Walsh and some teammates came up to them.
Walsh visited the dialysis ward.
“There were kids in there from 15 years old down to newborn,” Walsh said.
He shook his head.
Seeing that tends to change the way one views missing a field goal.
Is it easy for him in his sixth season, at the age of 27, to block out the widespread criticism from fans, sports radio, the grocery check-out guy?
“I wouldn’t say it’s easy. I think anybody that tells you it is easy is probably lying,” Walsh said. “It’s not that easy to block it out.
“But at this point in your career you have to realize the outside noise is not going determine whether you have the job or not. It’s what you do on the field. And you have to realize that. You have to stay true to your skills and what got you to this point.
“You know, sometimes that can be challenging, when the ball is not going in for us. But you can’t judge your season on one or two games, good or bad. You’ve just got to try to be more consistent and do your job.”
Walsh said his recent misses is not an issue of mechanics or anything he needs to change. Other than, of course, the results.
“You know, I feel confident about the way I am hitting the ball,” he said. “And I know that sooner or later it is going to consistently go in, back to how it kind of was at the beginning.
“It’s definitely a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. But being here, everyone has been supportive and I think they know what I am capable of. And I’ve shown that. I just haven’t been as consistent as I want to be. But that is something I am still working on and trying to get through.
“We still have a long season left, is the way we look at it.”
Only after I asked did Walsh mention Seattle’s weather, and playing alongside Puget Sound in the Northwest’s drenched fall and winter.
“It’s different. It’s not necessarily that it’s windy, like Solider Field (in Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan). It’s just more dense; the ball doesn’t go as far,” said Walsh, who is from Florida and played at the University of Georgia. “You see it when people come here and they try to kickoff and they have big legs and all of sudden, ‘Hey, it’s only going a couple yards deep in the end zone.’ It’s just part of it.
“For us, I’ve been down at the stadium a few times this season during the week, to practice and get used to the environment and I feel like that’s helped me a little bit the last couple weeks. But I have to continue to get better.”
Walsh last visited CenturyLink Field on his own two weeks ago, on the Wednesday before the home game against Philadelphia. Snapper Tyler Ott drove him and punter-holder Jon Ryan to downtown Seattle while the rest of the Seahawks practiced as usual at team headquarters in Renton. They spent just 45 minutes kicking in the empty stadium, getting more comfortable with the stadium, then got back across Lake Washington to the team’s facility before practice ended for the rest of the Seahawks.
Walsh then made his only field-goal attempt that Sunday, from 46 yards, and all three of his extra points in the Seahawks’ 24-10 win over the previously 10-1 Eagles.
Walsh is doing that again this week, before the biggest Seahawks regular-season game in years.
“I felt like it helped me prepare for the game and not worry about hitting too many balls, because it’s a Wednesday,” he said. “And I felt like it helped me have success in the Eagles game.”
His pluses of kicking in the game stadium in the middle of the week instead of relying on just pregame kicks include not being worried about kicking too much minutes before a game, and the pragmatics of space. During pregame warmups, his own teammates, the other team’s kicker and all of the opponents’ players are running around all over the field where he’s trying to kick.
On a Wednesday or Thursday before a home game, inside CenturyLink Field, it’s now likely to be just Walsh, Ott and Ryan on a steal-away effort to change his--and the Seahawks’--season.
He said it’s a practice he started doing when with the Vikings, especially after they moved into their temporary, outdoor home at the University of Minnesota’s outdoor stadium while their new indoor palace that opened for this season was being built.
Walsh admits not every kick is the same in importance--nor is every game, for that matter.
“You have to really understand the situation. But it doesn’t mean you change stuff,” he said. “You can feel the gravity of the moment, but you can’t let it consume you and negatively affect the way you are going to kick the ball.
“At the end of the day, sticking to your routine will help you make it. Sticking to your beliefs. And staying confident.”