FRISCO, Texas – We've all heard of Field Of Dreams, but Monday night at Raymond James Stadium, that was a Field Of Horrors in more ways than one for Cowboys kicker Brett Maher.
And let's preface with this about the four extra points he missed, a single-game NFL low: Technically, that is as many missed kicks as he had all season long, going 50 of 53 on those 33-yard extra points, though two of those misses blocked, so really just one miss, and then 29 of 32 on field goals, two of those from 59 yards and the only other miss from 46.
So a Pro Bowl worthy season ignored by the voters, especially considering he was nine of 11 from 50-plus yards, one of those a 60-yarder and an NFL-high third 60-plus yarder of his career.
Guessing not many knew any of this when the jokes began multiplying to the point Jimmy Kimmel on his ABC late night show opened Tuesday's monologue by bagging on Maher's performance, to the point of showing every one of his misses. Life in the big leagues, right?
No one, though, is giving the fourth-year kicker props for being a standup guy in the locker room, actually doing so twice for a second round of questions, though never once giving himself any excuses.
When asked what was going through his mind after missing the first two extra points, he said, "I was just trying to put a good clean strike on it. Wasn't able to do that for two of those."
And when asked what his teammates said to him on the sideline during his game of struggles, Maher said, "I feel very fortunate to have the teammates that I have, the coaching staff that I have. They absolutely lifted me. I appreciate every single one of them – it's time to do my part."
Maher offered no excuses, yet the Cowboys are taking no chances of a hangover, signing kicking vagabond Tristan Viscaino to the practice squad on Wednesday, a guy who has made 10 stops during his four-year career, one of those in the spring of 2019 for three months with the Cowboys. Viscaino won the Chargers kicking job in 2020, but after missing – oh no, not this – five of 15 extra-point kicks in the first six games, the Chargers moved on. He appeared in three games this year, one with Arizona and two with New England, but only kicked in one game for the Cardinals, going three of three on extra points and two of two on field goals.
This is but a safety net, and maybe to see how Maher handles a little pressure, Viscaino at The Star Wednesday to work out during what's called a "Mock Game" practice (walk-through).
But let me point this out after walking around on the grass field when we first arrived at Raymond James on Monday. My assessment of the grass field was this: Awful. Very sparse outside the numbers. Then some recent sodded parts between the numbers and hash marks. Then better sod between the hashes, but laid indiscriminately, not the full 100 yards. Weird, I thought.
And just as I was finishing my scouting mission, here came Maher, pacing around the field, checking the field conditions here and there. And when I saw him tapping his right foot in various spots, he was checking the firmness of the ground and variable thickness of the grass. He did this for seemingly a good 10 minutes or so, scouting out the conditions, where also the field was lumpy.
And me, said to myself at the time, hope he doesn't let these field conditions get into his head. Been told just might have. Plus, two of his first three shanks missing the protective netting and landing in the stands for souvenirs. Well, they only have three K-Balls per team, and as holder Bryan Anger explains, they really only have time prior to the game to rub down the slickness off just two of the brand-spanking new balls. So yet another factor, down to their last available K-Ball.
So, yips as most everyone is pointing out or dips getting in his head or … distracted by not losing the third ball?
And on Wednesday, Anger points out that a couple of years ago when the NFLPA was rating grass fields in the NFL, Raymond James was one of the top-5 worse. "And the field was pretty terrible as it was last week," Anger said of Washington. But this is Tampa, FLORIDA. Lots of sunshine and rain, right? Not a lot of freezing weather. What's the deal? Even Buccaneers kicker Ryan Succop missed two of three field goal attempts on Jan. 1 at Raymond James in the last regular season home game and three of five in the final two home games.
And as Anger says of Maher, "He's a calm guy, doesn't overreact. He'll be fine."
And needs to be, since there will be no such thing – like in this 31-14 win over Tampa Bay – as any "extra" points if the Cowboys are to have a _shot_ at winning this NFC Divisional Playoff game.
· TV Rules: Lot is being made of the Cowboys-Bucs playoff game being chosen for Monday Night Football, leaving the winning team only six days to prepare for the Niners, who played their first-round game on a Saturday, so two more days than the now Cowboys to get ready for 5:30 p.m. Sunday. But hey, betting Monday Night Football playoff games aren't going anywhere since 30.6 million watched the game, the most for an NFL playoff game on ABC/ESPN since the 1999 Cardinals, uh, Cowboys game, a number expected to be higher than that previous high (30.7 million) when the final ratings come in.
· Say What? ESPN polled four of their contributors (Matt Bowen, Jeff Legwold, Matt Miller and Jordan Reid) to come up with the 2022 Top 10 Rookies and then another 10 just missed players. Nowhere did Cowboys rookie offensive lineman Tyler Smith appear. Maybe they did not watch many Cowboys games, but at least Troy Aikman pointed out during Monday night's ABC telecast that Smith should be up for some sort of rookie award for how well he's played, knowing this college offensive tackle trained to play guard during camp, then when Tyron Smith went down less than two weeks before the opener, the Cowboys moved him back out to left tackle … left now. Then he moved at times to left guard when the Cowboys began working veteran Jason Peters at left tackle, but when Tyler Biadasz went down against Tennessee, left guard Connor McGovern moved to center, Tyler Smith to left guard and Peters became the starting left tackle. That is, until Peters suffered the hip injury against the Bucs, moving Tyler Smith back to left tackle, Connor McGovern, moonlighting then at fullback, going back to left guard. Yeoman's job by the rookie in both spots. Hey, guys, that's No. 73 out there. TYLER Smith on this now 13-5 team.
· Next Round Bites: Backup offensive lineman Aviante Collins came up with this unique saying on a hat he's been wearing, "Linemen Lead The Way," and he couldn't be more right when talking about this Cowboys offensive line when it's intact, and will be for Sunday's game against the 49ers … Continuing this 2022 season's slogan of " Resilience," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy continues downplaying the Cowboys playing the second-round game at San Francisco on a short week, saying, "We're not stressed about it at all." … And how about this stat on how I like to say, "May man Deebo," the 49ers' PR crew figuring out the dual-threat Samuel during the 2021 season became one of just three players in NFL history to have at least 1,000 yards receiving, five receiving touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns, joining Marshal Faulk (1999) and Roger Craig (1985), while also becoming the first NFL player with at least 1,200 yards receiving (1,405) and at least 300 yards rushing (365) that same season … And here is one last beauty for the week, in the Cowboys release, their PR crew figures out Dak at 29 is the oldest quarterback left in the playoffs and the Niners' Brock Purdy, at 23, is the youngest.
And let's bring in "Dancing Mike" (did you see the postgame locker room video?) for this playoff week's final word, when asked what's the most difficult part of leading a team through the playoffs, trying to win a championship.
"Most difficult part? I think the biggest thing, and don't know if it's the most difficult, but I think the biggest thing is just staying true to who you are. You've got to play your game. This is not a time to change. I think it's an adjustment, and emphasize mindset, and at the end you've got to be comfortable that these games are going to come down to one or two big plays. You can't win in this league without big plays.
"Just look at this wild-card weekend. I mean, gosh, the games that were won, the big plays in the game, just watching Baltimore and Cincinnati, you've got one play that was a 14-point swing. So that's playoff football. But I think it's not only the challenge, it's just the mindset that you've got to embrace that.
"The beauty of winning playoff games is that's the kind of game you're going to play in."
Think this past Monday night, a Jayron Kearse end-zone interception from the 5-yard line with the Cowboys up just 6-0. It's the Dak play-fake from the 1-yard line, boot out left for a touchdown. It's the Dak TD pass in back of the end zone to Michael Gallup on a broken play. It's Chauncey Golston's near-sack on fourth-and-goal from the 9-yard line, forcing Tom Brady into a game-ending incompletion.
That's why extra points can prove big plays too. There is no such thing as "extra" in the playoffs.