The importance of a good kicker is never more obvious than when you see a team with a kicking situation that is truly, exhaustingly hopeless. The Buccaneers’ situation is just that, and it cost the team against the Patriots on Thursday night.
Tampa Bay kicker Nick Folk missed three field goals in the Bucs’ 19-14 loss to New England. His first miss — a 56-yarder to end the first half — is hard to blame on Folk. But two whiffs in the fourth quarter with his team trailing — from 49 and 31 yards, respectively — put the Buccaneers’ comeback efforts on ice.
His last miss, the 31-yarder, would have made the score 16-10, putting Tampa Bay within one score of New England with 5:36 remaining.
These misses aren’t the beginning of Folk’s struggles. Last week against the Giants, he knocked through a game-winner, but only after he had missed an extra point and kicks from 46 and 49 yards. If he’d put those seven points on the board, there would have been no need for any late-game heroics. Somewhat similarly in this game, had he put those nine (or even six) points up, the Bucs may have completed the comeback — or at least Folk could have found himself in a position to be the hero and hit another game-winner. Instead, with three seconds left and the Bucs down five at the New England 19-yard line, Jameis Winston threw a laser toward O.J. Howard that had almost no chance of being completed. It hit the turf and the Pats escaped from Tampa Bay with a win.
This might just be a two-game slump for Folk, but it’s hard to think it isn’t something more when the CBS cameras flash to him, head sunken into his chest and eyes pointed at the ground as he sits in misery on Tampa Bay’s bench after missing the final kick. It’s like watching Charlie Brown and Lucy play with a football — except no one is pulling the ball away from Folk. It’s happening all on his own.
The Buccaneers have aggressively (and infamously) tried to bolster their kicking position before, when they moved up to take Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. Aguayo lasted just one season with the team, missing seven of his 11 attempts from 40 yards or more. He was cut in August — after missing a PAT and a field goal in a preseason game — in favor of Folk, who is, it seems, also not the answer for the Bucs.