Kicking issues continued to haunt the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, as four missed kicks from Dan Bailey contributed to a 26-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, dropping Minnesota's chances of making the playoffs to 22%, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
Bailey was wide left on his extra-point attempt after the Vikings' first-quarter touchdown and and pushed three consecutive field goals to the right from 36, 54 and 46 yards out.
The Vikings kicker joins some unfortunate company with his historically bad outing. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last player with at least three missed field goals and a missed extra point without a make of either was John Aveni for Washington in 1961.
In total, the Vikings left 10 points on the board on Bailey's misses, putting his status as the team's kicker in question despite the fact that coach Mike Zimmer did not put the blame squarely on the 32-year-old.
"I don't know right now," Zimmer said. "He kicked good during the week this week. So we'll just have to make a decision and go with it. I like the kid a lot. Like I said before, I've had tons of confidence in him. He's had a very good year. He's had a couple bad weeks now. But you know, we can't throw away 10 points and things like that. It's not just Dan Bailey. We gave up a 50-yard throw because a couple guys weren't in the right place. You can't do that either. If you guys want me to fire guys for making a mistake here, a mistake there, then we wouldn't have any players. Let's not put this all on Dan Bailey."
After the game, quarterback Kirk Cousins offered support for Bailey as well.
"We win as a team and we lose as a team," Cousins said. "This league will test you no matter what position you play and you know it's one day. I've always believed to encourage myself in those games where I've thrown four interceptions and felt like I cost the team the game. I've been in that moment, and what you do is you realize you're playing for the long game. It was one day, it wasn't one season or a career. It was one day. And Dan's done a lot of good things for us this season and made a lot of big-time kicks, and through his career has made a lot of big-time kicks. So you don't ever want to make a bigger deal out of one day than it needs to be."
Even after repeated blunders with the kicking unit in Minnesota's past two games, Bailey entered Week 14 as the sixth-most-accurate kicker in NFL history. Last week in an overtime win against Jacksonville, Bailey missed two extra points and a field goal attempt at the end of regulation that would have won Minnesota the game. In overtime, after reaching the Jaguars' 32-yard line, the Vikings opted to run the ball eight straight times with Dalvin Cook to get as close as they could to the end zone, with Bailey eventually kicking a winning 23-yard field goal.
Last week, special-teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf suggested that the kicker was kicking the ball higher than usual in a rough outing against the Jaguars. On Friday, Bailey was asked whether he could pinpoint what's gone wrong with the kicking operation and said he was "embarrassed" by the recent misses but couldn't put his finger on any one specific issue.
"It was disappointing in the moment, obviously, and just overall," Bailey said. "Because more than anything, obviously, it has a real effect on the game -- clearly. But it's frustrating in the sense that you put in all this work, I feel like I've been hitting the ball well -- not only in practice but during the season -- so to go out there and perform that way was a little frustrating, obviously. For myself and everybody else, too, I'm sure. But you have to just put it behind you. You have to find a way to reset as quick as you can. That's all you can do. You can't dwell on it."
"Yeah, I'm fine with it," Zimmer said Friday. "Dan's had a great year, been good in practice this week. Talked to him a little bit the other day. He's very confident. He'll be fine."
Bailey has missed three of his past four point-after attempts and was 83-of-86 between 30 and 39 yards entering Sunday. Zimmer remained adamant in his support of Bailey but said that, "at this point in time, we're not really worried about feelings anymore."
"I don't know. I'm really disappointed," Zimmer said. "I have a lot of faith in him, I have a lot of confidence in him. But these last two weeks have not been good. I love the kid, he's a great kid, he's very even-natured. I don't know."
The last time a Vikings kicker missed three field goals in a game happened in 2018 in a Week 2 tie at Green Bay after then-rookie Daniel Carlson went 0-for-3. He was cut the next day, and the Vikings quickly signed Bailey, a free agent who last played with Dallas, as his replacement.
Minnesota has two losses this season in games in which it has possessed the ball for at least 39 minutes. No other team in the NFL has registered a similar defeat.
With Arizona beating the New York Giants, Minnesota (6-7) moves behind the Cardinals (7-6) in the chase for the final NFC playoff spot with three games left.