With Giants Coming To Town, Cowboys May Need Blast From Dan Bailey’s Past
There was an interesting scene that developed during the course of the Dallas Cowboys’ 2006 training camp in Oxnard. As punter Mat McBriar worked with kicker Shaun Suisham on his footwork, he nearly got trampled by receivers running routes along the sideline, prompting veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe to say: “Try and stay out of the way of the football players.”
The inference was obvious. Not everybody wearing a helmet was considered to be an equal. In short, specialists aren’t real football players.
If it were strictly up to the team representatives of the Players Union, kickers would have been run out of the league long ago, either by legislation or by force. Due to what is generally regarded in the locker room as gross inactivity during games, their value among teammates can often be miscalculated to the point of being non-existent.
However, not everyone is as prone to delusion as your average professional athlete.
I, for one, find no shame at all in acknowledging an intrinsic art to being a kicker on a football team. Only someone with a very particular temperament can maintain a balanced equilibrium and find satisfaction in standing on the sidelines for an hour or more before making a cameo that doesn’t even render his uniform stained. Only a kicker could be so important as to be so forgotten.
Those seeking proof of this last statement need only glance toward the Dallas skyline this weekend, where pro football returns for all of America, and especially America’s Team.
The road to Santa Clara and February’s Super Bowl begins on Sunday night for Jerry Jones’ traveling bandwagon, when the New York Giants make their annual visit to AT&T Stadium. And while NBC’s high-definition cameras will surely be focused on the star quarterbacks present, and discussion from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will inevitably find its way to the star running back absent, the Cowboys’ hopes for a fast start in 2015 may very well rest on the right foot of an unheralded Giant-killer.
It’s no secret that Dallas and New York have waged some classic battles in recent years, with Tony Romo and Eli Manning posting gigantic passing numbers in the process. It’s also well known that the Cowboys have won five of the last six meetings, and were only a Dez Bryant fingernail from taking all six.
But what is often overlooked in what has been portrayed over the off-season as a one-sided rivalry is the close nature of their games. Since the start of the 2012 season, five games between the Cowboys and Giants have been decided by seven points or less.
As you would expect, the kicking game played a vital role in each outcome, with Dallas’ Dan Bailey grabbing top honors.
His string of eight consecutive successful attempts over that span has included a 3-for-3 outing on opening night in 2013 during Dallas’ 36-31 victory, and a 35-yard game-winner in a New Jersey windstorm eleven weeks later. His 51-yard boot last October was also of importance, as it stretched the Cowboys advantage to 31-21 in the final minute.
It figures that special teams coach Rich Bisaccia will have to call on Bailey again during Sunday night’s game. He only hopes that Bailey will be able to answer the bell like he has in the past.
Bailey’s worth to the Cowboys is easily recognizable when alighting upon the fact that he is the NFL’s most accurate kicker of all time. Perhaps even more impressive than Bailey’s best-than-the-rest status, is his uncanny accuracy from mid-range. While the league average from 40-49 yards over the last three seasons was 79 percent, Bailey connected on 92 percent.
But, of late, Bailey has been anything but himself. Dating back to last December’s division-clinching victory at home against Indianapolis, he has missed a field goal in four out of five games, including his only attempt during preseason.
Were Bailey’s struggles a simple byproduct of poor field conditions, Bisaccia likely wouldn’t even be concerned at this point. But in addition to his misses on chewed-up playing surfaces in Green Bay and San Francisco, Bailey was also wide on a 41-yard try in Arlington during Dallas’ Wild-Card playoff win over Detroit.
As it is, Bisaccia is pulling out what little hair he has left.
Herein lies the moral of why kickers are not always popular. Just when you think you’ve got one figured out, you realize that you don’t. Kickers cost coaches their jobs. For some, even their hair.