Rookie kicker Blair Walsh doesn't disappoint in his Vikings debut
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings decision to select kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round of the NFL draft last April and jettison veteran Ryan Longwell led to a simple working theory among many regarding how this would play out.
Walsh's big leg would give the Vikings a kicker who provided far more touchbacks than Longwell did, but the Vikings would miss Longwell's ability to hit key field goals at crucial times.
But in his first regular-season game Sunday at the Metrodome, Walsh appeared to be as cool, calm and collected as any veteran kicker in the NFL.
His 55-yard field goal as time expired in regulation tied the score at 23 after Jacksonville had taken a lead with 20 seconds remaining, and his 38-yarder with 11:06 left in overtime proved to be the game-winner in the Vikings' 26-23 victory when the Jaguars failed to score on their one overtime possession.
"It is awesome," Walsh said of the kick he made as time expired in the fourth quarter. "We came and fought so hard for this victory, and we worked so hard in the offseason, and this is the first time it actually counted. It is awesome to just go out there and get a win for these guys."
There were questions about Walsh after he missed on 14 field-goal attempts last year in his final season at Georgia, but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer expressed confidence in Walsh and the ability to get him on the right track.
Walsh made nine of 12 field-goal attempts in the preseason, missing from 43, 45 and 49 yards.
He did not attempt a field goal in the first half Sunday, but made kicks from 20, 42, 55 and 38 yards in the final 30-plus minutes. Walsh also had three touchbacks, to go along with the three kickoffs the Jaguars were able to return.
But the kickoffs weren't what everyone wanted to talk about.
Walsh said he felt like he could have made a field goal from as far away as 58 yards Sunday. This doesn't surprise teammate Adrian Peterson.
"I've been bragging on this guy so when he made it I was looking out to the stands for my uncle," Peterson said. "I've seen (Walsh) make a 70-yard field goal during training camp. I'll find (my uncle) when I get downstairs and say, 'I told you about that guy.' He's good. He has a good leg."
The Vikings, in fact, had so much confidence in Walsh that they did not bring a kicker to training camp to compete with him.
"You have to credit Rick (Spielman, the Vikings general manager) and Mike Priefer and our scouts for finding him and having confidence that he was the right guy for what we wanted to do going into this season," coach Leslie Frazier said. "Blair was outstanding to come away and kick the way he did at the end of regulation and then to hit the game-winning field goal in overtime.
"As a rookie, it doesn't get much more pressure than that and to come through for us, it really improved the confidence of our players along with his confidence as time goes on."