The San Diego Chargers died of snakebites: They played nine games decided by seven points or less in 2016 and lost eight of them. They were reborn this year in Los Angeles, and it turns out that venom still flows in their veins.
The Chargers lost their first game of the season on a blocked field goal—rookie kicker Younghoe Koo drilled a game-tying 44-yard kick but was iced by a Broncos timeout, and on his second attempt, Denver blew up the Los Angeles line and swatted the field goal away. It wasn’t Koo’s fault—the penetration by the Broncos left him virtually nowhere to kick—but failing to save the game for his team must have still been brutal for the young kicker.
Their second game of the season—the Chargers’ first at home—again came down to Koo. Down 19-17, the Chargers drove into field goal range. Koo had a chance to redeem himself, again from 44 yards.
There was no problem with the blocking this time. There was no problem with the positioning on the field—the Chargers had actually moved the ball several yards to the right on second down, presumably because that’s where Koo wanted it—only he missed right. Last time the Chargers failed Koo; this time Koo failed the Chargers.
The Korean-born kicker’s arrival in the league was met with more excitement than basically any undrafted rookie kicker in NFL history. After two games, it’s turned a tad tragic. This shouldn’t be happening. NFL field goals are rarely blocked. And Koo was a lights-out kicker in college—he went 19-for-20 as a senior, drilling all 18 field goals he took from within 50 yards.
I’m sure Los Angeles fans—although judging from the team’s dismal opening day attendance, there appear to be a lot more San Diego Charger fans than Los Angeles Charger fans—want Koo to be cut. But Koo statistically should be an upgrade from the team’s last kicker, Josh Lambo, who was close to the bottom of the NFL in accuracy both of his seasons, missed eight extra points in two seasons, and missed all three 50-plus yard field goals he attempted last year. One bad kick (and one block) shouldn’t override all the evaluations the Chargers had that led them to believe Koo was better, even if that miss came at the worst time.
It’s possible Koo can’t handle the pressure of making clutch NFL kicks, and the Chargers should get rid of him. Why else would such a consistent kicker fail on such a straightforward kick? And it’s possible these back-to-back screw-ups will haunt Koo, and turn something that should be mechanical into something mental.
But it’s also possible that this is just a thing that happens to the Chargers, and no kicker will change that. Perhaps Koo’s misses are a symptom of Chargerdom, rather than a cause.