When it comes to rookie kickers, most of the talk has been about Greg "Legatron" Zuerlein of the St. Louis Rams, but there's a better first-year booter who deserves more praise. With 8:20 left in the second quarter of the Vikings' game against the Houston Texas on Sunday, Blair Walsh kicked a 56-yard field goal that put him on the right side of an impressive NFL record.
The Georgia alum became the first kicker in league history to make nine field goals of 50 yards or more in a single season. The boot put the Vikings up, 10-3, and Minnesota surprised the Texans with a 23-6 loss at Houston's Reliant Stadium. The result pushed the Vikings to 9-6, while the Texans dropped to 12-3.
The record of eight such kicks was first held by Morten Andersen of the 1995 Atlanta Falcons, and then was tied by Jason Hanson of the 2008 Detroit Lions. Hanson, of course, remains the only kicker to nail that many long field goals for a team that didn't win a game all season.
More impressively for Walsh? He hasn't missed a single attempt from that distance -- he's 9-of-9 as of that second-quarter kick. Also, his 56-yarder tied the franchise record for field-goal distance, matching Paul Edinger's 56-yarder in 2005.
There's no question that Adrian Peterson is the Vikings' (and perhaps the NFL's) most valuable player, but has anyone else done more to keep the Vikings in the playoff race than Walsh? Through the third quarter of Sunday's game, Walsh was an amazing 32 of 35 in field-goal attempts, and 9 of 11 outdoors -- that last stat was for those who would devalue Walsh's accomplishments based on the fact that the Vikings play in a dome.
"I knew he'd have the leg strength," Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said of his main man on Thursday. Accuracy is another issue. Obviously, we worked hard on it since the spring. After I saw the combine workout and then I went down to Georgia to work him out, I knew he had the leg strength to do that kind of damage as a field-goal kicker. You never know about accuracy until you go out there and do it."
Priefer was asked if there was any distance at which he would be uncomfortable letting Walsh air it out.
"It depends on the time of the game," the coach said. "I think anything inside of 60 [yards] -- 58, maybe, and in, on a normal deal. But again, it's time of the game. How our offense is playing. How the defense is playing. If we miss a 58-yarder, they get the ball at their own 48, and that's a tough deal. It depends on the whole situation."
What if it's at the end of a half, or the end of a game?
"Sixty-five yards, probably. Let him launch it. It would be fun to watch. I would be holding my breath. I normally do, anyway."
Let's make sure to recognize this rookie kicker as well -- after all, with "The Blair Walsh Project," he's got a pretty nifty nickname of his own.
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