Mike Zimmer defends Greg Joseph as kicking woes continue to haunt Vikings

EAGAN, Minn. – Greg Joseph was the first to realize the Minnesota Vikings were in the process of falling to 0-2.

Moments after the 27-year-old kicker made contact on a 37-yard field goal attempt Sunday that would swerve to the right of the goal post and seal the Vikings’ 34-33 loss at Arizona, Joseph threw his hands on his head in disbelief.

“This one’s on me,” Joseph said on Monday.

Joseph is the fifth kicker to appear in a regular-season game for coach Mike Zimmer, who’s in his eighth season in Minnesota, and he’s the latest to experience the Vikings’ notorious kicking woes. It was the fourth kick he pushed wide right since joining the Vikings this summer, including a point-after attempt in the second quarter and two misses in preseason games.

Kicking issues have become an embarrassment embedded in the fabric of this franchise for decades, dating back to Gary Anderson’s missed field goal in the 1998 NFC Championship game.

Since Zimmer was hired in 2014, infamous misses by Blair Walsh, Daniel Carlson, Dan Bailey and even Kai Forbath are a part of a bumpy history of kickers whose struggles have doomed the team in critical moments. Joseph is now a part of that unfortunate list.

The Vikings rank 28th in field goal percentage (80.9%) under Zimmer. Including the playoffs, Zimmer-coached teams are 15 of 23 (65%) on field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime when they are tied or losing by 1-3 points. That ranks 30th. It’s even worse in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime when the Vikings are tied or losing by 1-3 points. In those situations, they’re 4 of 10, which is the worst mark in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Because the Vikings found themselves in a position where they needed a game-winner to beat Arizona, Joseph’s miss will often be remembered as the reason why they lost this game.

But there were other factors. Facing a fourth-and-one at their own 34 with 1:54 left in the first half, the Vikings had a 63.5 chance to get a first down, according to ESPN’s Win Probability. According to those metrics, if you have a 56 percent chance or better to convert, you go for it. The Vikings punted, and Kyler Murray hit Rondale Moore for a 77-yard TD on the next play. In fact, three of the five worst coaching decisions made in Week 2 -- including the top two -- were Zimmer decisions to punt, according to EdjSports, which tracks coaching decisions using a win expectancy model.

Factors also included scoring just three points in the second half -- after a terrific first half -- and the defense yielding 474 yards.

But none of those things is as magnified as the emotion behind a game-deciding missed field goal.

In another time, Zimmer might have handled Joseph’s miss more tersely, sending a public message to his kicker the way he did after Walsh missed a 27-yard “chip shot” in the NFC wild card loss to Seattle to end the 2015 season. Or how he said in the 2018 preseason that if Carlson was going to miss kicks, the Vikings would instead go for two -- Carlson was cut after two games when he missed three field goals in Green Bay.

But the coach struck a different tone Monday.

“This kid has kicked well,” Zimmer said. “He missed a couple this week. That wasn’t the reason why we lost the game.

“Lots of kickers miss field goals. Let’s give the kid a break, OK?”

It was Joseph who sent the Vikings’ season opener to overtime in Cincinnati by nailing a 53-yard field goal. He also kicked two 52-yard field goals against Arizona in the second and fourth quarters.

Minnesota had confidence Joseph could kick that 37-yarder with ease. That’s why instead of running one more play to move the ball closer than the 19-yard line, the Vikings took a timeout and ran the clock down to four seconds.

“I know our range, you get inside the 30, even the 35, with Greg, you can make it,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “You kind of know where you want to get to, but every yard is precious. I think you still want to get as many as you can, be greedy and get all you can, so that you’re not asking too much of somebody.”

Before this season, Joseph hadn’t kicked in a game since the 2019 playoffs when he was a member of the Tennessee Titans because he was on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad last season.

But despite the Vikings' history of problems with the kicking game, Joseph vows to come back stronger.

“This one kick does not define me as a human or as an athlete,” Joseph said. “It can be a make-or-break in the career type deal, but I promise this is not going to break me. This is only going to propel me.”