Dan Carpenter knows all about slumps. They have bedeviled him before, but he always has managed to boot his way through them.
Like in 2010, when the Dolphins’ stocky kicker missed 11 times in 41 tries. He bounced back to make all but five of his kicks the following season.
But six games into the 2012 season, Carpenter finds himself scuffling yet again.
Good news for Miami’s long-haired, blunt-talking specialist: He doesn’t have to wait an entire season to make amends for perhaps the lowest moment in his five-year career. Redemption could come in just days.
Carpenter gets another shot at the Jets on Sunday. And this time, his coach said he will make the kick when it matters the most.
Carpenter pulled two field-goal attempts within his range to the left Sept. 23, the first time these teams played, including a potential game winner in overtime. New York won 23-20. Afterwards, Carpenter blamed himself for the loss.
A month later, Carpenter swears he’s not out to right a wrong when these teams meet again Sunday in New Jersey. It’s just like any other game to him, he is quick to say. But don’t think he has forgotten about it.
“It’s hard to say,” Carpenter said with a laugh when asked how long it took him to shake the disappointment.
“You think about it, but it’s nothing that’s going to keep me down for a season. It’s over with. There’s nothing I can do about it now. I can only wait for that next chance where I have the game winner, and knock it through.”
He’s still waiting for that chance.
Although the Dolphins’ three games since have been decided by four points or fewer, none has come down to the right foot of Carpenter, the 26-year-old from Omaha, Neb. His success rate — 63.6 percent — ranks 33rd out of the 34 players who have attempted a field goal this season.
Furthermore, Carpenter has missed 4 of 7 attempts from 40 yards or beyond this season, and has made just 31 of his past 49 tries from that distance stretching back to 2010.
But when asked if the Dolphins might shorten Carpenter’s range based on his recent track record, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin demurred, saying it changes on a weekly basis.
“I think he’s doing well,” Philbin said. “I have a lot of confidence in him. If called on, I’m sure he’ll deliver.”
So was Carpenter’s errant afternoon against the Jets just a bad day or a sign of a prolonged funk? Hard to tell; the sample size has been too small.
He has attempted just six field goals in the month since, making four of them. His two misses were far from easy, however, coming from 51 and 53 yards.
“Obviously, he’s improved,” said Brandon Fields, Carpenter’s holder and one of his closest friends on the team. “He’s a good kicker. He’s learned from his mistakes and he’s made the corrections he needed to make, and he’s shown it on the field with his kicks.”
But Carpenter has little margin for error, regardless of the distance. The rest of the league won’t allow it. NFL kickers are in the midst of an unprecedented season, on pace to make more than 87 percent of their field-goal attempts. That would shatter the league’s record for accuracy (84.5 percent, set in 2008).
And it’s only a matter of time until the record for the longest field goal falls (it’s 63 yards, held by four players). The Rams’ Greg Zuerlein almost did it Oct. 14 against the Dolphins, missing a 66-yard attempt in the final seconds that would have sent the game to overtime. The kick had plenty of leg.
“Obviously, I’m going to try to make every kick, no matter what,” Carpenter said. “I don’t think there’s a kicker in the league that would say they want to go less than 100 percent. Realistically, it’s very difficult to do. There’s nothing else I can do except prepare and get ready for Sunday.”