It sucks to realize that you are watching someone's football career explode in real time on your television, unless that person is Tom Brady. Today it was kicker Dan Bailey, whose Minnesota Vikings solidly outplayed Brady's Buccaneers but lost in no small part because Bailey, who was already having a rough season, suddenly and altogether lost the ability to kick the ball between the uprights.
Bailey came into the game 12-of-15 on field goals and 27-of-30 on extra points. He's been a great kicker in his career—sixth all-time in field goal percentage entering the game—but has never really been aces for the Vikings, for whom the former Pro Bowler has played since 2018. Mike Zimmer endeavored to replace him before last season, but Bailey survived the effort and scored a sweet multiyear deal:
Bailey got his first look Sunday following a Dalvin Cook second-quarter touchdown, the game's first score. His badly shanked extra-point attempt, which sailed wide right, was a bad omen. On the next Minnesota drive, with the Vikings still up 6-0, Bailey was again wide right on a 36-yard field goal. On the very next drive, with the Bucs now ahead 7-6, Bailey lined up for a 54-yarder. The effort was NOT CLOSE:
This was the sixth—sixth—missed kick in the last six quarters for Bailey, who'd missed a field goal and two extra points in Minnesota's narrow Week 13 win over the lowly Jaguars. The seven points the Vikings left on the board in this first half started to look extra huge on the ensuing Bucs possession, which ended with a Ronald Jones touchdown run and a successful extra point. The Vikings' inability to finish off drives kept the Bucs in range through some brutal early possessions, and a seriously crud-looking Brady started getting into a rhythm.
The Vikings were down 23-14 in the fourth quarter when a pair of terrible sacks pushed them to an unmanageable fourth-and-goal from the 28-yard line, which by this point was the only conceivable circumstance where Zimmer could reasonably call Bailey's number. His attempt, from 46 yards, was once again wide right.
The Vikings had more than 39 minutes of possession in this game. They had 27 first downs against 17 for Tampa Bay. Hilariously, they converted four of five fourth-down attempts to extend drives. Dan Bailey is not why they lost this game, but his misses were crushing, not just for depriving the offense of points but for giving an underwhelming Bucs offense favorable field position in a game where they otherwise weren't particularly effective at moving the ball.
Unlike the media sensation that is the blog site Defector dot com, it would appear that the Vikings are being punished for choosing the wrong Dan. In sports as in business, it's crucial that you select the proper Dan.
When asked after the game about handling the psyche of a kicker who cannot kick straight, Mike Zimmer said "we’re not really worried about feelings anymore." Good kickers do not grow on trees, but there is absolutely no shortage of terrible ones, and at this point the Vikings could hardly do worse.