Miami Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter looking to rebound

Clutch field-goal attempts have toyed with the psyche of many an NFL kicker, and the Dolphins’ Dan Carpenter is the latest one trying to recover from failure.

09/30/2012 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 6:05 PM

More than 60,000 spectators packed the Orange Bowl on a late October afternoon nearly three decades ago, but Fuad Reveiz suddenly stood all alone.

The Dolphins and the Buccaneers were tied at 38, and all that stood between the home team and revelry was Reveiz, a rookie, doing his job.

Make the 43-yard kick, and he’s the hero. If not… .

“It’s not a fun thing at all,” Reveiz said of the pressure that comes with end-of-game kicks.

Today, private coaches make a healthy living helping pros manage clutch situations. But Don Strock, Reveiz’s holder, had a simpler, saltier message on that long-ago afternoon.

“Kick the [bleeping] ball and let’s get out of here,” Strock said.

Reveiz did as he was told. The football soared through the uprights.

Fast-forward 27 years, and Dan Carpenter has Reveiz’s old job. Last Sunday, he faced a near-identical situation. Carpenter had no doubt he would be just as dependable.

But he was wrong. Carpenter pulled two late attempts to the left.

You can come up with a list of reasons why the Dolphins lost to the Jets in overtime last week. But in the emotional moments that followed, Carpenter could think of only one: He failed where he was certain he would succeed.

“I like when we have a chance to win the game and I’m out there,” Carpenter said days later. “I’m thinking it’s sewn up. That’s how I went into it this last game. That’s how I’m going to go into it from here on out.”

Carpenter’s next chance could come as soon as Sunday, when his Dolphins (1-2) face the surprising Arizona Cardinals (3-0) in a game Miami linebacker Karlos Dansby has dubbed a “must-win.”

Should it again come down to a Carpenter kick, the fifth-year pro will have his team’s full confidence, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said this week.

He deserves it. Carpenter’s 48-yard miss in overtime Sunday was just his second in eight career “clutch” situations, according to Stats Inc. Carpenter’s success rate is just off the league-wide average of 77 percent.

A kick is considered clutch if it’s attempted in the last five minutes or in overtime, and if either the score is tied or the kicker’s team trails by three points or fewer.

Accept nervousness

Adam Vinatieri might end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday for his Super Bowl-winning exploits, but not even he is infallible. Vinatieri has missed 8 of 41 such kicks in his career.

“You are going to be nervous, no question,” said Michael Husted, a former NFL kicker who now works as a private coach. “The key is to admit and accept that nervousness so that you can get back to focusing on your technique and making the kick.

“If you try to hold it down, it will eventually find its way up.”

During his 9-year career, Husted managed his emotions superbly, making 12 of 15 clutch kicks in the final minute of games.

Still, he’s quick to rattle off his failures — they came from 47, 51 and 53 yards, he said. Those misses taught him more than the makes, he said.

Gary Zauner spent 13 years as an NFL special-teams coordinator, and coached Reveiz in Minnesota. Like Husted, Zauner now earns a living as a private instructor.

And although Zauner has found that some kickers naturally have a tougher makeup than others, he believes that performing in the clutch is a learned trait, not one that’s innate. When Zauner would interview kickers coming out of college, one of the first questions he would ask was how many game winners they had tried in their life. The more, the better.

“I don’t think it’s as much toughness as being cool, calm and collected,” Zauner said. “Some of the best doctors don’t have the best bedside manner. But they’re not emotional either, so when something happens in the operating room, they don’t go, ‘Oh my god.’ ”

Zauner looks for tendencies in kickers, and said many have their attempts drift to the left on longer distances. That was the case with Carpenter on both of his misses Sunday. But instead of massaging their psyche with a Tony Robbins-style pep talk, Zauner would offer an easy fix: Simply aim a little more to the right.

It’s similar to golf

In that respect, clutch kicking is a lot like golf. And like golf, shanks can spring up with even the best.

Reveiz was out of football for a year after missing 4 of12 attempts for the Dolphins in 1988. He got a fresh start in San Diego, but the pressure to succeed nearly broke him. Reveiz made just 2 of 7 attempts for the Chargers, and was gone after four games.

Given a last chance with the Vikings, Reveiz snapped out of it, connecting on 133 of his final 171 attempts. That includes a game-winning, 36-yarder in Pittsburgh 20 years ago.

“It was so loud, I couldn’t even hear my holder’s instructions,” Reveiz said. “I remember hitting the ball, and it going down the middle. It went from absolutely bedlam to absolute silence in an instant.”

For Carpenter, there would be no sweeter sound Sunday.

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