NFC North: Morten Andersen
Minnesota Vikings place-kicker Blair Walsh drilled three field goals of at least 50 yards in last Sunday's 36-22 victory over the St. Louis Rams, making him eight-for-eight from that distance this season. As the chart shows, Walsh has tied the NFL record set by Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson for 50-plus yard field goals in a season and has two games remaining to break it.
Andersen, Hanson and Walsh are tied together by at least one common thread -- indoor home games -- but let's not let that fact dilute this accomplishment. After all, Walsh has actually been a better long-distance place-kicker than the more-celebrated Greg Zuerlein -- a.k.a "Legatron" -- of the St. Louis Rams, who also play their home games in a dome.
Walsh, in fact, has missed only three of 32 field goal attempts this season, and his 29 conversions are tied for third in the NFL. Mix in his 64.3 touchback percentage on kickoffs, the NFL's third-best, and you have a strong Pro Bowl candidate for the NFC North's only rookie place-kicker.
Some of you know I'm down on the entire concept of the Pro Bowl, but many of you are not. So as time permits over the next week or so, I'll try to highlight some of the NFC North's deserving but perhaps unnoticed candidates. The teams will be announced Dec. 26.
|Bob Donnan/US Presswire|
|The next time Jason Hanson makes a field goal from 50 or more yards out, he will tie the NFL record for most career field goals from that range.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Detroit Lions fans will soon see history, and we promise you it's a good thing. The next time that place-kicker Jason Hanson makes a field goal of 50 yards or more -- and the way things have been going, it could come Thursday -- he will tie the NFL record for most career kicks from that distance.
It's an obscure but overlooked plateau that's been mostly hidden by the Lions' horrific season. But it speaks to one of the NFL's most underappreciated players, a kicker who has been drilling difficult field goals largely under the radar for the past 17 seasons.
At 38, in fact, Hanson converted a career-long 56-yard kick earlier this month at Carolina. He leads the league with six field goals of 50 or more yards this season (in six attempts), and his next will tie Morten Andersen's NFL mark of 40. For a team that has had trouble moving the ball, Hanson might be the offensive MVP.
"I've felt good about making them," Hanson said, "because for us this season, points have been crucial no matter where we are on the field. If your drive stalls but you can hit a 50-yarder, at least you get something out of it."
Hanson has always been known for a strong leg, but it took him a while to refine his long-distance kicks. In his first three NFL seasons, 1992-94, Hanson made only five of 17 (29.4 percent) attempts from the 50-plus range. Since then, he has converted 34 of 55 (61.8 percent).
"When I came out of college [at Washington State], that's what I was known for," Hanson said. "So I felt pressure to make them. It would be like, 'Hey, let's watch this kid kick.' I'd be trying to put every ball in the stands. ... At some point, you learn to control yourself. You realize that if you get wild, it doesn't help. You kick them hard but not wild. That's part of maturing, I suppose."
Hanson has made a few concessions to age -- he now kicks twice a week in practice, tops, rather than every day -- but otherwise remains in remarkably good shape. A two-time Pro Bowler, his kickoffs remain strong and he seems set to kick well into his 40s.
But with his team poised to miss the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year, you wonder whether Hanson's career will end where it began. His contract expires after this season, and his family is currently living in Washington as he prepares for an offseason decision.
During a phone conversation last week, I asked Hanson the indelicate question of why he has remained with the Lions for so long and whether he wanted to return -- considering what will likely be another rebuilding project under a new front office.
"I will say this," Hanson said. "The worst part about losing and the record we've had over these years is that you're judged only by your record. But there are a lot of things about Detroit and the Lions that really are first class and even world class. We have a great facility. There are great people in other departments. Everything has been judged on wins and losses, but to me it's been a great time to be in Detroit other than the drain of losing.
"Personally, I've always enjoyed playing here. I have a family, and sometimes it's not as easy as you might think to do something different. I've always loved this organization, and I believe you should always do what's in front of you. I'm playing professional football and trying my best. You can never predict the future, but I've always wanted to stay here. It's been 17 great years."
And soon to be history-making as well.