Saints kicker says he needs just minor adjustments
As word spread Tuesday that his team was working out players for his position, Saints kicker Garrett Hartley — whose field-goal percentage is the third-lowest in the NFL — received a phone call.
It was New Orleans’ special-teams captain Will Herring, and, according to Hartley, he had a message: “The Saints are still behind you.”
Hartley returned to work Wednesday with that knowledge. He made each of the half-dozen kicks he attempted in practice, said his holder, backup quarterback Luke McCown.
Then, Hartley met with the media and insisted he hasn’t missed four of the past six field goals he’s tried in games because he’s beset by self-doubt.
“It’s not that at all,” Hartley said. “I’m feeling confident ... trusting my leg swing, knowing what I can do.
“It’s just little, minute things that need to be corrected, and they will.”
After starting the year a solid 14-of-16 before the Saints’ Week 7 off week, Hartley has gone 2-for-6, and his field-goal percentage has plummeted to 72.7 percent, leaving him 31st out of 33 kickers who’ve played in the league this year.
The Saints (7-2) this week worked out five kickers, including veterans Shayne Graham and Neil Rackers, and speculation swirled about whether Hartley’s spot was in jeopardy. A day later, coach Sean Payton denied he was considering a replacement for Hartley, explaining the Saints were simply evaluating players on a free-agent shortlist, which exist for other positions as well.
In fact, Payton said, the Saints worked out a group of safeties, too. But, unsurprisingly, New Orleans’ decision to take a look at unemployed kickers right when theirs is struggling intensified the scrutiny on Hartley.
Hartley said he’s experienced enough to cope with the extra attention.
“It’s part of the deal,” said Hartley, in his sixth season with the Saints. “It’s not my first time down this path.”
It’s certainly not.
The year after he nailed a 40-yard, overtime kick to send the Saints to Super Bowl XLIV and then made three more field goals to help them win their only NFL championship, Hartley started the 2010 season 4-for-7 and was benched for two games in favor of John Carney.
Among the misses that got Hartley subbed out is one some Saints fans won’t ever forgive him for: a 29-yarder in overtime that would have defeated the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons ultimately won that game with an overtime field goal on the way to a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC. The Saints, who split the regular-season series with Atlanta, finished 11-5 and lost a wildcard-round playoff game on the road to the Seattle Seahawks, who needed just a 7-9 record to win their division.
Nonetheless, the Saints gave Hartley his job back, and he closed out the campaign by going 16-of-18, or 88.9 percent. It didn’t prevent him from posting a career-worst field-goal percentage of 80 for the season, but it showed Hartley could sort out midyear issues.
Hartley missed all of 2011 with a hip injury. He came back in 2012 and went 18-for-22, 81.8 percent, one-tenth of a point above his career average.
This year, Hartley sped off to an above-average start. He buried a last-second game-winner at Tampa Bay in Week 2 from 27 yards out. He went 4-for-4 at Chicago three weeks later to help the Saints win at Soldier Field for the first time in four tries under Payton.
However, it wasn’t perfect. He missed two field goals in the Saints’ first six games before missing four in the following three contests.
In all, Hartley has missed three times each from the left and right hashes. All of his misses from the right hash were wide left: two from 43 yards out (at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against Miami and on the road against the Jets) and one from 47 (which struck the upright vs. Buffalo at home).
From the left hash, two of his misses were wide right: from 43 at Tampa Bay and from 37 against Dallas this past Sunday night. His third from there, from 38 against Buffalo, went wide left.
“With the ball obviously tailing left on (most), it’s something that’s so small and so minute, it’s obviously very fixable,” said Hartley, who managed to hit a career-long field goal of 55 yards at the Jets. “I know the situation, and bottom line is I just have to go out there and put the ball in between the pipes.”
That’s something Payton and the Saints believe Hartley can yet again do consistently.
“Garrett ... has done it in so many big spots,” Payton said. “I’ve got a ton of confidence in his ability. I’m glad we did (the Super Bowl season). I think the same thing applies this year.”
McCown added there’s no other kicker out there he’d rather be holding for with an elimination game on the line — Hartley is 8-for-8 in four postseason contests.
“There’s not many guys you can say have kicked winning field goals in a Super Bowl (run), and he’s one of them,” McCown said. “I have all the confidence in the world in Garrett.”