NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Blair Walsh started off a new season the same way the Minnesota kicker wrapped up his last: hooking field goals left.
This time, Walsh missed not just one, but two field goals and twice on the second attempt before redeeming himself. He rebounded by kicking four field goals in the second half Sunday as Minnesota beat the Tennessee Titans 25-16.
But Walsh also missed an extra point, leaving Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer disappointed and expecting improvement.
“He’s going to have to kick them through,” Zimmer said. “He’s our kicker so there’s no question about that, but he needs to kick better.”
Walsh had all offseason to dwell over the 27-yard field goal he shanked in a 10-9 loss to Seattle in the playoffs last January when holder Jeff Locke couldn’t spin the ball to get the laces out.
The kicker told reporters after Sunday’s game he would love the first two attempts back and was grateful he got four more chances along with the victory. His first kick from 37 yards missed left, and he badly yanked consecutive attempts from 56 yards short and left just before halftime even after Tennessee tried to ice him with a timeout.
“I was trying to kill it because I had to get it there,” Walsh said of the distance. “That’s usually the result when you’re trying to do that too. That’s how I looked at them. I don’t think there’s anything … more you can take from it than that. I’ll have to watch a little bit more to see exactly what’s going on.”
Being mad at himself in the locker room at halftime seemed to help refocus the kicker. In the third quarter, Walsh got the defending NFC North champs on the scoreboard with a 50-yard field goal.
“I knew that one was well within my range,” Walsh said. “And you know, I’ve been around a little while. I think I can bounce back and I’ve shown that. Like I said, I want to make it smooth from the beginning, and it’s something I need to work on.”
He added a 33-yarder and looked back in rhythm until missing the extra point after Eric Kendricks’ 77-yard interception return late in the third. Walsh was 33 of 37 on extra points last season.
Walsh shook off that miss and added field goals of 45 and 30 yards in the fourth quarter.
Now in his fifth season, Walsh has five game-winning field goals in his career, and he now has 24 field goals from 50 yards or longer in his career. That ties him with former Minnesota kicker Ryan Longwell and the late Rob Bironas for 15th in NFL history from that distance.
Walsh wants to take any drama out of sending him out for any kick.
“You want to have those kicks that are dead center from the beginning and make it smooth the whole time rather than fighting through it and getting in a rhythm,” Walsh said. “We’re too good to do that, and I know better than to do that.”
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