MANKATO – It has been seven months since Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field-goal attempt late in the fourth quarter that would have given the Vikings a playoff victory over Seattle at TCF Bank Stadium.
So when did Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer finally get over seeing the chip shot sail wide left on that miserable January day? “I don’t think I’ve gotten over it,” Priefer said Thursday. “I don’t know if you ever get over something like that, but I’ve moved on from it. I don’t think you forget it.”
It doesn’t matter if Priefer can get over The Miss. What’s important is that Walsh is able to put it behind him.
The temptation since training camp opened has been to attempt to draw conclusions. Walsh made 8-of-8 field-goal attempts in his first go-around kicking at camp last week as those in the stands, and on the sideline, watched with great interest.
That might have been a welcome sight for many who are concerned that Walsh will continue to be haunted by his miss. The reality is that success on a hot day in Mankato meant nothing. Just as nothing that happens in the coming weeks, or in the preseason, is going to matter.
The first time anyone is going to get even a slight read on where Walsh is at, in terms of his state of mind, will be on Sept. 11 when the Vikings open the season at Tennessee. And that will be only part of the answer. If the Vikings make the playoffs, that will present another potential mental hurdle for Walsh to clear.
Until then we’re all just guessing that Walsh’s success, or failure, might carry some meaning.
Walsh is no stranger to adversity, although the Seattle miss took it to another level.
After being a sixth-round pick by the Vikings in 2012, he made 35 of 38 field-goal attempts (92.1 percent) during an outstanding rookie season. Walsh set NFL records when he made his first 10 field goals of 50 yards or more and connected on three from 50-plus yards in a December game in St. Louis.
Walsh followed that up by hitting on 86.7 percent of his attempts (26 of 30) in his second year. Last July, Walsh received a four-year contract extension worth up to $14 million, but he was coming off a season in which he made 26 of 35 field-goal attempts, a career-low 74.3 percentage.
This increased the pressure on Walsh but his 34 field goals last season led the NFL and he connected on 34 of 39 during the regular season. Walsh then made three kicks in the playoff game against the Seahawks before his crucial miss.
Priefer realizes that miss could do one of two things for Walsh. It could motivate him to become that much better or it could haunt him on a weekly basis for the remainder of his career.
“I think the one thing I can learn as a coach is to remind him, ‘Hey man, let’s just focus here,’ because he knew the moment, and the moment’s not too big for a guy like Blair Walsh,” Priefer said. “He has been in those type of moments before – maybe not in a playoff game – but for me as a coach, I think I’ve got to be able to be smart enough, or whatever it is, and say, ‘Hey, you know what, Blair? Let’s just relax, stay focused here.’ He’s going to go out and make that kick next time. But I don’t think you ever forget a play like that, but I’ve moved on from it.”
Has Walsh been able to do the same?
Tough as it may be to accept, we are months away from knowing the answer.