Championship Sunday in the NFL often opens up the eyes of fans and offers glimpses of what makes winning teams go. So, unsurprisingly, quality quarterback play, gutsy coaching, timely defense, perseverance, and the evolution of game-calling were on full display in both the AFC and NFC title games this weekend.
As was one thing Chicago Bears fans hold near and dear to their heart – accurate kicking.
Stephen Gostkowski, Harrison Butker, Greg Zuerlein, and Will Lutz combined to go 9-for-9 on field goal attempts and 12-for-12 on extra points on Championship Sunday. Each successful kick was like a dagger in the heart of Bears fans who watch their favorite team’s postseason run end before it could really get started, when Cody Parkey missed a 43-yard game-winning attempt during the Wild-Card round. And surely things were all the more painful when Lutz, Zuerlein, Butker, and Gostkowski were trading off clutch kicks in the fourth quarter and overtime. Clutch kicking in a playoff game? Sorry, can’t relate.
Of the nine kicks that were made on Sunday, three were longer than the one Parkey missed against the Eagles in the opening round. Two of those came off the leg of Greg Zuerlein, who nailed a 48-yarder to send the NFC Championship Game to overtime and punched in a 57-yard boot to send the Rams to the Super Bowl. I mean, I couldn’t even imagine a Bears kicker attempting a 57-yard field goal, let alone making it in overtime to send the team to the Super Bowl. Inconceivable!
So once we get beyond the poor officiating and antiquated league rules that are driving the conversation in the wake of a pair of overtime games, our biggest takeaway from Championship Sunday is that kickers still matter.
And if you’re looking for a silver lining from a Bears perspective, the team could find a suitable replacement for Parkey seemingly anywhere. Pace already confirmed there will be competition for Parkey, and while we won’t rule out a Robbie Gould reunion (he’s a free agent, ya know), it’s worth knowing that he won’t be the only kicking option available.
Kickers are found everywhere: Gostkowski was a Patriots fourth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, going 118th overall. Butker was a seventh-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Panthers, who waived him in order to keep Graham Gano (he ended up on the Chiefs after being signed off Carolina’s practice squad in September 2017 following Cairo Santos’ injury). Zuerlein was a sixth-round pick in 2012 by the St. Louis Rams, who waived Josh Brown (who was, himself, entering the final season of a five-year deal worth $14.5 million) the same weekend. Talk about timely! Then there’s Lutz, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2016, was waived in late August, and signed with the Saints in early September to replace Kai Forbath.
So while the Bears could go into free agency and find their replacement kicker, it’s worth pointing out that three of the four kickers who participated on Championship Sunday were drafted. The fourth was an undrafted free agent signing. That’s neat. Considering Bears GM Ryan Pace’s history with finding late-round gems and UDFA contributors, there might not be a better time to find one who can kick the ball successfully between the uprights (as opposed to hitting them square with the game hanging in the balance).