Even great kickers are allowed to miss a field goal now and again. But great kickers like the Dallas Cowboys’ Dan Bailey remain great kickers because they don’t squander second chances.
Bailey’s 49-yard game-winning field goal midway through overtime against the Houston Texans came shortly after he slightly hooked a 53-yard field goal at the end of regulation, a kick that would have won the Cowboys their fourth straight game.
As it turned out, that only delayed Bailey’s franchise-best ninth game-winning field goal in the final two minutes of the game or overtime. It’s the Cowboys’ first four-game winning streak since … hmmmm let me think about this … seriously, a little help?
Most teams treat kickers as disposable. There’s a burnout factor akin to closers in Major League Baseball.
It was midway through 2011 when the Cowboys won four straight to improve to 7-4. This streak moves the Cowboys to 4-1 and keeps them in a dead heat with Philadelphia for the NFC East lead.
Bailey proved once again that the investment Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones made this past offseason was worth it, even though the Cowboys have been strapped for cap space the past few years. Jones handed Bailey a seven-year, $22.5 million extension, choosing to hand out big money — by kickers standards — and not allow Bailey to hit free agency next season.
Most teams treat kickers as disposable. There’s a burnout factor akin to closers in Major League Baseball. Kickers, like closers, are asked to produce in high-pressure situations when all eyes are on them.
In most cases, the game is on the line. The closer has to get the final out. The kicker has to knock it through the upright, especially when the clock is near zero, as it was in regulation on Sunday.
There was no reason to believe Bailey would miss that kick, even though a field goal from more than 50 yards in the NFL is a 50-50 proposition. Bailey had been lights out up to that point, having made 30 straight field goals, dating back to September 29, 2013, when he missed his only attempt against San Diego.
Imagine being perfect at your job for more than a year. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it? But Bailey hooked that kick and sent the game to overtime.
Placekickers will tell you that all they want in that situation is a second chance. It didn’t look like he would get one early in overtime.
Houston won the toss and started moving the football down the field. The Cowboys defense, like it had much of the afternoon, bent but didn’t break and ultimately forced a punt. After the Cowboys got the ball back, it took a clutch 31-yard completion from quarterback Tony Romo to wide receiver Dez Bryant to get Bailey back into position for redemption.
This time, Bailey didn’t miss. His ability to bounce back in situations like this is part of the reason Jones wisely spent the money.
The Cowboys needed Bailey to redeem himself to win this one. The Cowboys’ offense committed two turnovers, and Dwayne Harris committed another on special teams. The offense was productive but didn’t get many opportunities to score points.
The defense played well, even though Texans back Arian Foster gutted them for 157 yards and two touchdowns. But those were the only touchdowns the Cowboys gave up, and their tackling on Sunday was nothing short of exemplary.
Bailey made the difference on Sunday. Even if he needed two chances to make it happen.