Watch: It’s a Wild Ride When Replacing an All-Time Scoring Leader
In 2019, Georgio Tavecchio will attempt to replace the Falcons all-time leading scorer, Matt Bryant, as the team’s placekicker. Becoming the new kicker on a team can be tough enough. It’s a lonely position. Replacing one who holds a special place in fan’s hearts is even tougher. Are the Falcons getting a replacement that will fill that empty place or one who will cause fans to curse Thomas Dimitroff for letting Bryant go? Let’s take a quick look back to see how other kickers have fared in the same situation.
Mike Vanderjagt was the Indianapolis Colts kicker for eight season’s and had established himself as the franchise’s leading scorer. In the 2004 postseason his mouth caused problems for the Colts when he said the New England Patriots were “ripe for the picking” before their Divisional Round matchup. Indianapolis lost the game 20-3.
In 2005, when the Colts hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round, he missed a 46-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime. Indianapolis lost at home to the eventual Super Bowl Champions 21-18.
Vanderjagt wasn’t re-signed for 2006. Instead, the Colts dipped into free agency to sign, then Patriots all-time scoring leader Adam Vinatieri. He’s not only still kicking as well as ever at age 46, he has replaced Vanderjagt as the Colts leading scorer.
How did the Patriots replace the kicker who had nailed 18 game-winning field goals, including the clutch 48-yarder that gave the franchise its first Super Bowl victory? They selected Stephen Gostkowski fourth overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. The Patriots haven’t looked back. Gostkowski is now the all-time leading scorer for the franchise.
Tavecchio doesn’t have to be Vinatieri or Gostkowski, two kickers who will receive serious Hall of Fame consideration, to be successful for the Falcons. Where he doesn’t want to end up is on the opposite end of that spectrum.
When Pat Leahy wrapped up his career with the New York Jets in 1991, they tried to replace him with New England cast-off Jason Staurovsky. He lasted four games with the Jets in 1992 and missed five of his eight attempts before being replaced.
The Falcons also don’t want to end up in the position the Chicago Bears found themselves in after letting all-time leading scorer Robbie Gould get away after the 2015 season. Gould had struggled in a couple of games that year. He missed both of his attempts in a Week 9 game that the Bears eventually won over the San Diego Chargers. Later he missed two out of four attempts in a Week 13, 26-20 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers and followed up in Week 14 by missing his only field goal attempt, a 50-yarder that would have sent the game into overtime in a 24-21 loss to the Washington Redskins.
In 2016, the Bears brought in Connor Barth, who missed five of his 23 attempts that season. Despite that, the Bears brought him back for 2017. In Week 10, with a chance to send a game against the Lions into overtime, Barth gave a new definition to the term wide-right (or as Bob Uecker would say in the movie “Major League”, it was “juuuust a bit outside”).
The Bears released Barth the next day, leaving that effort to still be the final kick of his career. For 2018 they signed free agent Cody Parkey from the Miami Dolphins. Chicago is still reeling from the last-second “double-doink”, 43-yard field goal attempt that sent the Bears down to defeat, 16-15 against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round.
There are no guarantees to be had when a team makes the move to replace the franchise’s leading scorer. We’ll soon see whether the Falcons succeed or “double-doink” the attempt in 2019.