Nate Kaeding still feels the effects of last January.
SAN DIEGO -- The most efficient kicker in NFL history is consulting with a sports psychologist for his failings. Nate Kaeding, who had previously seen a mental-health professional to help with his mindset and found it helpful, has seen the guy "about six'' times this offseason, he told me, to help him deal with the aftermath of a head-case performance in the Chargers' three-point divisional playoff loss to the Jets at home Jan. 17.
Kaeding went 0-for-3, missing from 36 (wide left), 57 (short), and 40 (wide right). The last kick was almost embarrassing. He punched the ball, instead of swinging his leg through it naturally, and it sailed way to the right. It was the classic kick of a man pressing too hard instead of naturally doing what he's been trained to do.
The psychologist didn't give any deep dark advice. "Keep the game in perspective,'' Kaeding said the message was. "Don't make it bigger than it is. There's going to be peaks and valleys, and just accept them.''
Six sessions, though. That's not the garden-variety pat on the back accompanied by a you'll-be-fine message. Kaeding is bugged by this, and my guess is the team, with one more disastrous January, could look elsewhere for a kicker.
Last season wasn't the first time Kaeding had gotten tight in the playoffs. In a wild-card game in 2004, he missed a 40-yard field goal in overtime that would have beaten the Jets; the Jets won, 20-17. He missed 45- and 48-yarders in the 2007 playoffs. Not easy kicks, but good kickers in the league have to make them.
Contrasting his playoff stat line with his regular-season one:
I asked Kaeding: Will there be a hangover this year?
"I don't know,'' he said. "I can't kick a playoff field goal in August, or October.''
A kicker has to be like a cornerback. Give up a long completion, corners are told, and you've just got to move on blindly to the next snap. Same with kickers, who can't carry one miss into the next kick. The problem against the Jets, Kaeding said, was carrying over the first miss, and you can tell, standing here on the field of the Chargers' practice facility, that it still bugs him.
"Mentally, I wasn't able to flush that first kick,'' he said. "As a kicker, you know you're going to miss. What disappoints me is not being able to put that one behind me.'' The second one was a long prayer. No harm, no foul. But the third one, in a tight game, was inexcusable.
"I was completely blindsided by that,'' he said. "Shame on me for ever thinking I've got this game figured out. I just didn't approach that kick right.''
And the fact that Kaeding can't make it right today or tomorrow is probably the worst part. It's going to eat at him until January, and there won't be a player in the NFL with more pressure on him entering the playoffs (if the Chargers make it) than Kaeding.
"Quite honestly, it still bugs the crap out of me,'' he said.
The players dig in -- and the commish gets a bite to eat too.
Roger Goodell spent three days with John Madden, now a league consultant, on the Madden bus, riding to five NFL camps last week. "We talked football nonstop,'' Goodell told me. Except for the stop at the rest area on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, where the bus stopped just before closing time for dinner at the little food court there. Goodell said there was a Chili's in the food court, and they went to order something, but because of it being close to closing time, everything on the menu wasn't available.
"I'll just take some chili, then,'' Madden told the kid at the counter.
"I'm sorry,'' the kid said. "We don't have that.''
Without a pause, Madden said: "Am I on Candid Camera?''
(I just realized a lot of you don't know what "Candid Camera'' is. Well, you'll have to google it. It was a funny show back when mastodons roamed the earth.)
Goodell and Madden got perspectives from players and coaches on, among other things, the 18-game-schedule proposal, the new player safety initiatives (about new helmets and the prospect of making pads mandatory), and what to do about the program of never-ending offseason workouts that have evolved in the league. "Clearly there's a cultural change going on,'' Goodell said, referring to the players' increasing awareness of the long-term effects of head injuries.
But Goodell was also challenged on his trip to camps when he met with players, with no coaches or front-office types in the room. This happened not only on this five-team trip, but on his visit to Chiefs' camp in St. Joseph, Mo., where one source said veteran guard Brian Waters, the reigning NFL man of the year, and union board member Mike Vrabel led a skeptical discussion about the looming collective bargaining agreement talks between players and owners. Waters, I hear, was particularly tough on Goodell. In Washington, DeAngelo Hall blistered Goodell after he left, telling the local press: "He just wants to say that the owners are over here, the players are over here and I'm in the middle, I'm for the game. But to ask him a question about anything, he couldn't answer,'' Hall said. "...We sat there and shot questions at him for 45 minutes, and pushed meetings back, and had to be here longer for nothing. A total waste of time.''
Goodell figured that was coming. It'll be coming a lot over the next year. "I said at the beginning of these sessions that there were a lot of things I couldn't address because we're in negotiations,'' Goodell said. "Overall, it was very valuable. I got to hear from players on a variety of issues.''
Was it awkward or chilly in those rooms? "No, not to me,'' he said. "I was comfortable. I wanted to get a real perspective, and I think I did.''
On my visits over the past two weeks, I've tried to ask players, owners and front-office people their view of the negotiations and whether they feel we're headed for peace or war. The view is overwhelmingly negative. I covered the 1987 strike, and my recollection is that a year before that three-game strike, there wasn't the rancor or negativity about the outcome of the talks. Things can change, of course, but owners and GMs, in particular, see some gaps that seem too hard to bridge without a sea-change of thought by one side or the other. The clear majority of those paying attention expect a lockout of the players next March.
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