Vikings relying on Longwell in the clutch
By Mark Craig
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MANKATO, Minn. - Ryan Longwell's value to a Super Bowl contender was reinforced again Sunday night when Dallas Cowboys kicker David Buehler's 49-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left of Nancy Pelosi.
"He's got a huge kickoff leg, but he missed that field goal the other night by 20 yards," Longwell, the Vikings kicker, said of Buehler's errant shot in the Cowboys' 16-7 Hall of Fame game victory over Cincinnati. "I'm not sure if you can be there if you're hitting balls like that."
Buehler and Longwell play for two of the NFC's best bets to reach the Super Bowl. The former has never attempted a regular-season field goal. The latter has made 322 of 388 attempts (82.9 percent) going back to when Buehler, 23, was 10 years old.
So while Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hopes his dream of a Cowboys Super Bowl in Dallas doesn't come down to a field goal, Longwell's placekicking might be dead last on the Vikings' list of concerns.
"I've been pretty good for a long time," said Longwell, coming off a career-high 92.9 percent success rate. "And this is the first time I've had the same snapper (Cullen Loeffler) and holder (Chris Kluwe) over an extended period of time. What they give to me is vital."
Whether Longwell also kicks off this season seems uncertain at this point. The Vikings signed kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason. And while it's logical to think he will make the team, the Vikings also have to assemble a 53-man roster while considering all positions, including an unexpectedly thin receiving corps.
"Rhys and I get along, and he's kicking the ball great, as I am," Longwell said. "But I wouldn't say him being here has benefitted or not benefitted me as a placekicker. I'm approaching it like I'm still going to do everything because who knows what will happen a month from now in this league."
He's got a point. Just look around at some of the NFC's shaky kicking situations.
In Arizona, the Cardinals brought in Jay Feely to replace Neil Rackers. Rackers led the NFL in placekicking percentage last year, making 16 of 17 (94.1 percent) field goals during the regular season before botching two of three pressure kicks in the postseason. Feely wasn't any better, going 1-for-3 with the Jets in last season's AFC Championship Game.
In Atlanta, Matt Bryant and Steven Hauschka are back competing after disappointing seasons in which they were dispatched from Tampa Bay and Baltimore, respectively.
In Washington, the Redskins finally have their franchise quarterback (Donovan McNabb), but their kicker is a guy named Graham Gano, a 23-year-old who kicked the Las Vegas Locomotives to last year's United Football League title. As an NFL kicker, he has attempted four field goals.
And then there's Dallas, where a team built solidly on offense and defense must rely on the inexperienced Buehler, a second-year pro who was the league's best kickoff guy a year ago. He replaced the struggling Nick Folk and apparently has the unwavering support of the owner.
"We're going all the way with Buehler, and we think that's the right thing to do," Jones told reporters.
Longwell, meanwhile, is the NFC's top returning kicker, having made 26 of 28 attempts last season.
"In building a team, I think kicker would rank pretty high," Longwell said. "It's one of the few positions in the world that's either an A or an F. There are no C's in kicking. Your successful teams always seem to have the consistent kickers. And the teams that are always a near miss are always teams that think they can sneak one by with a kicker who doesn't have the experience."
(c) 2010Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.startribune.com
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.