The biggest game of the 2021 season came down to a field goal. It was a game-deciding kick during Bucs-Patriots on Sunday Night Football during Week 4, with Tampa Bay ahead 19-17 with 59 seconds remaining. New England kicker Nick Folk lined up for a 56-yard attempt, took his windup, and then kicked, sending the ball spinning end over end for more than three seconds before colliding with the left upright, ringing off the metal like a giant yellow tuning fork.
“You could hear the doink!” Al Michaels said on NBC.
Folk’s miss sealed Tampa’s win. Tom Brady walked out of his old stadium a winner. The kick was a questionable decision by Bill Belichick, who opted for the long field goal try on a rainy night instead of going for it on fourth-and-3. But it was something else, too. It was a very loud doink.
A very loud DOINK. Bucs beat the Pats on SNF. pic.twitter.com/fkvtrceC12— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) October 4, 2021
All-time loud doink.— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) October 4, 2021
Thank doink was loud af yo lol.— Will Blackmon (@WillBlackmon) October 4, 2021
Doink loud as hell. Lol— DJ Heat (@DJHeatDC) October 4, 2021
It hasn’t been the only one. Rams kicker Matt Gay’s missed extra point that ricochetted high off the right upright in the third quarter against the Seahawks in Week 5? Very loud doink.
The 49-yarder that Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson celebrated making in overtime against the Packers in Week 5, only to realize he’d doinked it? Loud, resonant doink.
Bengals kicker Evan McPherson celebrated a field goal that he missed pic.twitter.com/R6nVpIGgsP— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) October 10, 2021
There were others. Doinks, ringing out across the league, across America. The king of doinks himself, Cody Parkey, had one for the Saints against the Washington Football Team in Week 5. Packers kicker Mason Crosby had one on an extra point against the Bengals (more on that game later). There was one in the Dolphins-Raiders Week 3 game, when Miami kicker Jason Sanders sent perhaps the loudest doink of all off the right post just before halftime.
Jason Sanders – DOINK #MIAvsLV #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/vKuMCHqyEx— René Bugner (@RNBWCV) September 26, 2021
Was that Jason Sanders missed FG DOINK the loudest DOINK in NFL history, or doe the stadium have a microphone draped around the post for good audio?— Yianni Kourakis (@WPBF_Yianni) September 26, 2021
No that Jason Sanders doink was way too loud. They put extra mics on that one.— Matt Burton (@IAmMattBurton) September 26, 2021
The doinks were loud, and they were spectacular. But why? Could there be some explanation for this cacophonous kicking? I had to know. So, I set out on a quest to find if our ears were deceiving us or if doinks were truly ringing louder than before in 2021.
I started with the networks. I asked the broadcast crews who brought us these deafening doinks if they, too, had noticed them and if there was any clear reason for them.
Fred Gaudelli, executive producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football, told me via email that no two doinks are created equal.
“There are a few factors that go into the sound level of a doink,” Gaudelli wrote, “including how solidly the ball hits the upright and the exact spot it hits, as well as how well your audio field effects mixer tracks the ball and opens the microphone on the goalpost.”
Yes, reader, it’s true: They’re micing the posts.
That’s not all.
“Weather can play a factor as well as who’s kicking: the home or away team,” Gaudelli continued. “It’s almost certain the crowd sounds will be much less if it’s the home team kicker since they’ll be quiet at the snap. In our case [the Folk doink in Bucs-Patriots] it was a combination of all of the above.”
Megan Englehart, a representative for FOX’s NFL coverage, also confirmed to me that its broadcast crews mic up the posts, but added that “more footballs seem to be hitting the posts lately.”
Yes, the doinks are louder. And more plentiful. As have been the misses.
This season, NFL kickers have made 83.1 percent of their field goal attempts and 93.1 percent of their extra point attempts. Through an entire season, those figures would make for the second-worst field goal percentage in the past decade and the second-worst extra point percentage since 1979 (though the more relevant data set for extra points is from 2015 on, since that was the year the NFL moved PAT tries back to the 15-yard line). It’s worth noting that these already subpar results have come in September and October, relatively warm-weather months when kicking, in theory, should be easier in many NFL stadiums than in December and January.
The crisp fall air, though, is no friend to kicking units. There were seven missed extra points in Week 3 alone. Then, in Week 5, the NFL took the bad break boomerangs to an art form. Kickers missed 14 field goals and 13 extra points in Week 5, more missed kicks than any other week in 34years. The 13 missed extra points were the most in NFL history for a single week of football, and never before had there been double-digit missed extra points and double-digit missed field goals in the same week.
Every missed kick of week 5 so far— alex (@highlghtheaven) October 11, 2021
All 21 of them. pic.twitter.com/5kEElOJmdH
Week 5’s Patriots-Texans game featured three missed extra points in a row. Even at this season’s low rate of makes, the odds of three missed PATs back-to-back-to-back is less than a tenth of a percentage point, putting it between the likelihood of getting drafted into the NBA and being injured by a toilet. Even so, Texans coach David Culley still asked kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn to attempt a 56-yard kick after he was responsible for two of those three missed PATs. You probably don’t need me to tell you that Fairbairn missed that kick, too.
“The decision there was the fact that we felt like he was in his range,” Culley said. “He’s our kicker. Got the utmost confidence in him. He had a tough day up to that point but had made one.”
It’s hard to understand what Culley means by “in his range” given that Fairbairn’s career long is 55 yards and his season long just 33. Coaching decisions were definitely a factor in Week 5’s slate of bad kicking, and not just in Houston. Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury sent Matt Prater out to attempt a 61-yarder, which he missed. The Buccaneers sent Bradley Pinion, their punter, out to kick a 60-yard field goal since regular kicker Ryan Succop had never hit one from that distance before. This too did not work.
Those missteps may not have mattered, though, as something dark and sinister had been impacting even reliable kickers under more normal circumstances.
In Week 4, Giants kicker Graham Gano missed a 35-yarder against the Saints to snap what had been the longest active streak of made field goals in the NFL. Gano had made 37 consecutive kicks before missing in New Orleans. And in Week 5, McPherson’s mistaken celebration and Crosby’s doink were part of a kicking debacle of historic proportions, during which there were five missed field goals in the final 2:12 minutes of regulation and overtime. Crosby had made 24 field goals in a row going into that game, a Green Bay franchise record, before missing from 51, 40, and 36 yards, plus the extra point in Cincinnati.
“Everybody says ‘Oh, if you’re a kicker all you’ve got to do is kick, why can’t you just make the ball,’ but when that’s your sole responsibility, it’s tough,” Packers receiver Davante Adams said after the game. (This was potentially not as helpful as Adams thought it was.)
Crosby did redeem himself, eventually kicking a game-winning 49-yard field goal in overtime.
“It’s my job. I just keep resetting,” Crosby told Peter King after that game. “I haven’t missed many kicks the last few years. Unfortunately, it came in a little bit of a cluster here, but I know my ability and when everything is smooth and good, we go out there and execute. It was another opportunity. Just couldn’t believe with how crazy this game was that we had another chance.”
Just another day in Doinktober.
The good news is that even if 2021 continues to be one of the worst kicking seasons in recent memory, it’s not by all that much. The 2013 season saw the highest percentage of made field goals, 86.5 percent, in NFL history, a few percentage points above this season’s mark. The second-best season on record was 2018, when kickers made 84.7 percent of their field goal tries. And while it’s been the second-worst season for extra point accuracy percentage since the line was moved back, that range goes from 93.0 percent in 2020 to 94.3 percent in 2018. Kicking in the NFL has been on a steady upward climb for decades, so it’s relatively easy for statistical blips to create diversions from the high bar that has been set. The kickers of 2021 may be clanging off that bar—loudly—but at least they’re in the area.
Doinktober has come for many, but there is one man immune to its forces, a kicker so powerful that he controls the doinks, lest the doinks control him. NFL uprights are standardized at 35 feet tall; because of their uniformity, they produce the same sound—the second B-natural from the bottom of a piano keyboard—when struck.
Uprights were only 30 feet in length before 2014 and would have produced a different pitch when hit. They were lengthened in response to a game-winning field goal in 2012, a 27-yard kick that was called good after sailing over the top of the right post. The kicker responsible, of course, was Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, who set an NFL record for the longest field goal in league history earlier this season with a 66-yarder in Week 3. Tucker’s game-winner against the Lions went the distance, then doinked up off the crossbar, and fell through it on the other side, counting for the make, the win, and the record. When you’re Justin Tucker, even the doinks are good.