EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Pressure? Of course there’s pressure. This is the playoffs, after all.
As the Minnesota Vikings aim for their first postseason victory since the 2009 season when they host the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round, Kai Forbath made it a point to remain as steady throughout the week as he is when he lines up to kick, mitigating the outside noise, pressure and expectations he’ll feel Sunday was a crucial part of his own playoff prep.
“I view it as a normal game for us, focus the same,” Forbath said. “You can’t try to put extra pressure on it. That’s when bad things happen.”
Forbath knows the history, the thing no Vikings fan wants to bring up. Two promising postseason runs that came to an end in heartbreaking fashion: Gary Anderson's only miss of the 1998 season -- after he became the first NFL kicker to notch a perfect regular season -- that cost the Vikings the NFC championship; and Blair Walsh's hooked 27-yard try in the final seconds of the 2015 wild-card game. It was a career-defining, wide-left infamy Forbath hopes to stay far, far away from.
The Vikings kicker has a chance to exorcise Minnesota’s playoff demons Sunday, and to do it against the team that cut him ahead of Week 1 of the 2016 season (after he had won the job in training camp) when it decided to go with rookie Wil Lutz. That storyline, however, is one Forbath is choosing to ignore.
“You can’t think like that,” the 30-year-old said. “I focus the same for every kick no matter what it is, situation, if we’re winning or losing, or whatnot. Just trying to help score points when I can.”
Forbath has done quite a bit of that this season, scoring 130 points while attempting a career-high 38 field goals. He made 32 of those kicks -- making him the eighth most-accurate kicker in league history (85.926 field goal percentage). But struggles with extra points likely are giving Vikings fans something to worry about heading into playoff action. Forbath was 34-of-39 on extra points. His five misses were the most in the NFL this season.
None of Minnesota’s three losses came down to field goals, and the kicks Forbath made down the stretch, like the 49-yarder in the freezing cold at Lambeau Field, assure his head coach.
“Good,” Mike Zimmer said of his confidence level in Forbath. “We’ve got the crystal ball on our side.”
Forbath also has something else on his résumé: playoff experience, albeit not a ton. Though he hasn’t booted a field goal in the postseason, he did make two extra points in a loss with Washington on Jan. 6, 2013.
He has come through on a number of pressure kicks this season, like the winner at Chicago, six against Baltimore, a 53-yarder in Washington and the impressive field goal against Green Bay in Week 15. The confidence from the latter of those kicks is something Forbath said he hopes to carry into the playoffs, along with the experience he’s had in high-stakes situations this season.
“I think the more pressure kicks they kick during the year or in their career [the better], and Kai’s not a young guy,” special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “He’s been there before in terms of the pressure situations, so hopefully that will carry over into the playoffs.”