By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts-ian
As fans anticipated a classic game to go into overtime, one kicker ran late onto the field, rushed his motions, and delivered one of the most devastating finishes in NFL history by missing a 32-yard field goal wide left. Yes, what you watched on Sunday was historic, and anyone that's just about legal drinking age (born before 1/27/1991) can say they've been alive for both instances.
For just the second time ever, a do-or-die field goal was missed in a Championship game.
The first happened in Super Bowl XXV when Buffalo’s Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal with four seconds left. The kick would have won the game for Buffalo, but instead they lost 20-19 to Bill Parcells’ Giants.
Now enter Baltimore’s kicker Billy Cundiff
, who was wide left on a 32-yard field goal attempt with 0:11 left that would have forced overtime. To bring things together, Cundiff’s breakout NFL performance was on 9/15/2003 for the Dallas Cowboys, coached by Parcells, when he made seven field goals in a 35-32 victory over the New York Giants.
Sure, other kickers such as Mike Vanderjagt, Nate Kaeding, Lin Elliott, Jan Stenerud, Nick Lowery, Doug Brien, Eddie Murray, and Pete Stoyanovich have missed critical kicks in Wild Card and Divisional games.
Even in Championship games, Gary Anderson missed what should have been a game-clincher for the 1998 Vikings, but they would go on to lose in overtime for other reasons. George Blanda had a winning field goal attempt blocked at the end of regulation in the 1962 AFL Championship game, but his team would lose in double overtime.
That’s why Norwood and now Cundiff, stand alone as the only two kickers in NFL history that missed a Championship game field goal that resulted in certain defeat.
Who was the beneficiary for both legacy-defining games that ended with the big miss? Bill Belichick
; first as defensive coordinator for the Giants and now the head coach for New England. Of course, the foundation of Belichick’s run of postseason success with the Patriots is based on Adam Vinatieri’s miraculous 45-yard field goal in the snow against the Oakland Raiders in the 2001 playoffs.
We dare anyone to name another coach in NFL history that’s benefitted more by field goals – either those made by his kicker or those missed by the opponent – than Bill Belichick. It helps to be good, but it might be even better to be lucky.
Opportunity is also a wonderful thing. Ask Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes
. He missed two go-ahead field goals at Green Bay in the 2007 NFC Championship game; the second would have been a game-winner. But he got a third chance in overtime, and made it.
This week he got a chance in overtime after 49ers’ return-man Kyle Williams fumbled for the second time, which can only draw back memories of Miami’s Fulton Walker, who fumbled on consecutive kick returns in the fourth quarter of a 1983 AFC Divisional
loss to Seattle. But this is the NFC Championship, and Williams’ second fumble was deadly, setting up Tynes for a field goal; making him the first kicker to ever have two game-winning field goals in overtime in the postseason.
Cundiff missed his kick from 32; Tynes made his from 31. Guess it would have been asking too much for another missed field goal in a Championship game.
As you can see, it truly is a “special” occasion.
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He hopes there’s a special place in hell for field goal kickers. You can send any questions or comments to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.