Imagine what a really bad day at work would be like. If you were a bartender, you might have served someone a drink with a fingernail in it. If you were a bank teller, you might have mistakenly handed a customer $1,000 in cash when all they wanted was $10. If you’re a car salesman, you may have swayed a $100,000 beauty in the corner of the dealership while you brought it in for a test drive. Boring-worthy errors, all, except for offenses that can be launched?
Then again, you probably don’t work in the NFL, where understandable mistakes can still cost you your job. Like, for example, losing more extra points in a single game than anyone else in NFL history.
Kicking is a strange, ungrateful occupation, boom or bust. In any game that ends in a missed last hit—the 2022 Peach Bowl, for example, or Super Bowl XXV—the kicker’s teammates will rally around it, recounting through their teeth the old clichés about one game that doesn’t cost them the game, or winning and losing as a team.
On the one hand, in sliding-door fashion, being lost isn’t the only reason a team can lose a game; That first-quarter-nulled-and-kill penalty hold in the first quarter, that pass interference penalty that kept an opponent’s run alive that ended in a touchdown, and the decision to punt on fourth and short all ended up shaping the game in a way that ultimately hinged on one kick.
On the other side is the “You Had One Job” microphone. The kicker is the one who kicks, end of story. And if a kicker suddenly can’t kick, well, there’s not much use to him, right?
Which brings us to Brett Maher, the normally reliable Cowboys player who suddenly, inexplicably and miserably, missed one, two, three and then four extra points in a row against Tampa Bay in the final round of the Finals Monday night. If the rest of the Cowboys don’t completely choke the Bucs on both sides of the ball, rendering fouls irrelevant, Maher may now be living under an assumed identity to avoid the wrath of Dallas fans.
Since it was clear early Monday night that Dallas was going to go through the soft butter, though, everyone could laugh and wonder how bad it was, rather than fear for Maher’s safety. Now that the game is in the books – closing with Maher making what was surely one of the most important kicks of his entire career – did the Cowboys kick Maher to the curb?
One bad game is generally not enough to get a kicker, but if it does, it often happens either early in the season or with a clear replacement plan in place. Earlier in the season, the Colts snapped Rodrigo Blankenship after a Week 1 tie with Houston in which the Hot Rod fouled two base plays and missed the game-winner in overtime. But Blankenship has already been on thin ice due to an irregular and injury-plagued 2021 season. The Chiefs cut Matt Ammendola in September after he missed an extra point and a field goal against the Colts, but Ammendola was just keeping the cleats of regular goalie Harrison Butker warm while Butker recovered from the injury.
Veteran status has its perks, too. Butker missed extra points or field goals in five straight games upon his return, but kept his job. Four years ago, in a regular season game against the Lions, Mason Crosby missed five kicks, including four field goals and an extra point, and not only stuck with his job, but kept kicking for Green Bay during the season.
As for the prospect of a cowboy cut from Maher, never say never; Football teams do all kinds of weird things, and you’d never go bankrupt and bet on coaches and general managers making poor personnel choices. But playing it safe is to ride with the kicker they know, for two reasons. First, other than one really bad day, he pretty much did just fine with Dallas. And second, adding a kick in the middle of a playoff run is like trying to fix a plane mid-flight. Plus, a plethora of top-notch, battle-tested, playoff-ready kickers aren’t available in mid-January. The Cowboys might bring another kicker to camp, but Maher has to keep his job for at least a week.
This season, Maher has converted 50 of 53 extra attempts. In his prior stint with Dallas, from 2018-19, he made 68 of 69 attempts. In other words, he missed as many extra points on Monday night as he did over 46 regular season games across three full seasons. That’s remarkable, impressive consistency…but the playoffs bring a whole different level of pressure than the regular season.
Kickers who have clutched kicks understand the various demands of the postseason. “In games where you feel the ground shake a little bit, the stomping and yelling turn into white noise,” said Rich Carliss, who kicked a crucial extra point for Denver at the end of John Elway’s famous “Drive.” Goal winner in overtime. “That’s the difference between guys who can make it in the regular season versus the postseason, guys who are really good at coaching versus guys who get it done in games.”
Prior to Monday night, Maher had only two games of playoff experience, both in the 2018 season. He made all five extra point attempts against the Seattle Rams, went 1-for-2 on field goals during that postseason, converted 39 yards and missed out on 58. Night Sunday, Maher had two misses right, one miss left which was clearly a major overcorrection, one correction off vertical, and finally – crucially – a successful extra point.
“Knowing what this guy’s done with the resilience he’s shown throughout his career, personally, I have no doubt he’ll come back next week and be perfect and help us win,” Dak Prescott said after the game.
Even though Sunday’s Cowboys-49ers over/under game is the lowest of all four divisional games this weekend at 46.5 per BetMGM, Maher will get his chances — or a chance, at least. But if Maher struggles again with what should be easy kicks, next week could be a very different story.
Connect with Jay Busbee on Twitter at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.