Vikings haven't lost faith in Ryan Longwell despite 'abnormal' season
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MOBILE, Ala. -- One wayward season hasn't shaken the Minnesota Vikings' faith in Ryan Longwell.
The 37-year-old placekicker made only 78.6% of his field-goal attempts in 2011 -- his worst percentage since 2005, when he was 20-of-27 (74.1%) and the Green Bay Packers cut him after the season.
But special teams coordinator Mike Priefer offered a vote of confidence on Tuesday, pointing out that problems with the rest of the field-goal operation were responsible for at least a couple of Longwell's six misses in 28 attempts.
"The one that was blocked (in a season-ending loss to Chicago) was not his fault -- it was a bad snap and a terrible hold," Priefer said. "There's one or two that probably weren't great holds that normally he should make, but I don't want to put all the blame on him. So, you take maybe three of those away, he's still over 80, maybe 85 percent, which is still a solid year."
The loss of long snapper Cullen Loeffler to a season-ending back injury on Nov. 27 at Atlanta only exacerbated issues that had cropped up earlier in the season, when Priefer had to correct an issue with the spot and tilt of punter Chris Kluwe's holds.
Signed to a four-year, $12 million contract extension in July, Longwell had made 16 consecutive field-goal attempts before he missed a 41-yarder wide left against Arizona on Oct. 9 -- then missed three more times over the next four games.
"The ones you're concerned about are the ones that go a little bit left," Priefer said of Longwell, who made an NFL-best 93.4% of his field-goal attempts (43 of 46) over the previous two seasons.
"He's normally not a guy that goes left. I still trust him. I still know he's a good field-goal kicker. I think at the end of the day that it was kind of an abnormal year for him. It was an abnormal year for our whole football team."
The Vikings took penalties that lengthened two field goals to more than 50 yards, and Longwell missed one of those. Kluwe uncharacteristically muffed a snap in a critical spot on Nov. 20 against Oakland. Then the Vikings replaced Loeffler with Matt Katula, who was highly erratic and had a hand in Longwell's worst game on Dec. 24.
Longwell put a kickoff out of bounds that day, missed short and right from 49 yards into a slight wind and yanked an extra point wide right, too.
"It wasn't our smoothest year as a unit, which ultimately is my responsibility to make sure everyone is ready to go each and every week," Longwell said by text message. "Normally, we have one a season where something goes wrong, but I think we had five or six, which is obviously too many."
Only six full-time kickers -- the New York Jets' Nick Folk, Denver's Matt Prater, Baltimore's Billy Cundiff, Washington's Graham Gano, St. Louis' Josh Brown and Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham -- finished with a worse field-goal percentage last season.
The Vikings have no plans to look for a new kicker, though, and Priefer said he's also comfortable with Longwell continuing to handle kickoffs. He had a career-high 19 touchbacks last season, but that was mostly a product of the NFL moving up kickoffs to the 35-yard line.
"Because he's not a big touchback guy -- and he never will be, to be quite honest with you, at his age -- we can do some different things with him because he's a very good directional kicker," Priefer said.
"You saw the Saints game and the Bears at the end of the year, he was fantastic. His spots were good and in the directions we wanted. We did some different things with our coverage and moved guys around that most teams don't have to do, because they're getting the touchbacks. We can be creative like that and make you comfortable as a coach."