On a sunny, 80 degree day with no wind at Raymond James Stadium, the conditions looked to be favorable in the kicking game. The Minnesota Vikings had just marched down the field to take a 6-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Vikings kicker Dan Bailey took the field for the point after attempt. Snap, spot, kick, and, for the second consecutive week, Bailey missed an extra point. From then on, Bailey’s missed field goals began affecting the Vikings offensive approach as the afternoon went on in their 24-12 loss. After the game, head coach Mike Zimmer was non-committal to the kicker’s future, but with three games remaining, the team will need to make a decision quickly on if Bailey is their guy moving forward.
The Minnesota Vikings Have A Decision To Make With Dan Bailey
Missed Opportunities Change the First Half
Following a Tampa Bay three-and-out, the Vikings offense was right back on the field. When their promising drive stalled at the Tampa Bay 17-yard line, Minnesota sent Dan Bailey and the kicking team onto the field to give the Vikings a two-score lead. However, after missing the extra point to the left, Bailey pushed the 36-yard field goal to the right, and Minnesota somehow only led 6-0 after dominating the game’s first 20 minutes. Four plays later, Tampa Bay scored and all of a sudden were ahead 7-6.
Minnesota once again moved the ball down the field. After getting the ball to the Tampa Bay 31-yard line, a false start penalty and ensuing incompletion pushed the Vikings back to the 36-yard line. On 4th-and-15 and too close to punt the football (Zimmer said he would have gone for it if they were closer to the first down), Bailey again went out to attempt the kick, a 54-yarder. While never known as a power kicker, Bailey had a career-long of 56 yards coming into the game, including a 53-yarder in 2020. However, Bailey’s attempt was never close, pushing the kick so far to the right that the ball did not even hit the kicking net behind the goalposts. Tampa Bay responded with another touchdown drive, and at 14-6, the game was quickly slipping out of the Vikings’ hands. The Buccaneers kicked a field goal to end the half, taking a 17-6 lead into the locker room. Bailey had left seven points on the field, and even if he received a pass for the 53-yarder, his misses put the Vikings in a two-score deficit with the Buccaneers receiving the second-half kickoff.
Struggles Kill Hopes of a Comeback
Tampa Bay’s momentum carried into the first drive of the second half as they scored a touchdown to take a 23-6 lead. The Vikings responded with their own touchdown drive, but instead of bringing Bailey out to kick the extra point, the offense stayed on the field and converted, cutting the deficit to 23-14.
Minnesota got the ball back after forcing a punt, and a promising drive stalled with nine minutes remaining in the game. On fourth-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 28-yard line, the Vikings had no choice but to reluctantly send Bailey out to attempt the field goal. A successful kick would give Minnesota a prayer to come back. However, Bailey pushed the 46-yarder wide right once again, and the miss all but sealed the Vikings’ comeback chances.
What Should the Vikings Do?
Sunday’s game was not the first time that Dan Bailey had struggled in recent weeks. A week earlier, he missed two extra points against the Jacksonville Jaguars. With a chance to win the game near the end of the fourth quarter, Bailey missed a 53-yarder to the left that never had a shot. When asked following the game about his kicker, Zimmer said he had not lost confidence in Bailey.
But after Zimmer would not commit to Bailey following Sunday’s loss, it appears that a change could be on the horizon. He has never been afraid to make changes with the special teams unit. Last month the Vikings cut their struggling long snapper Austin Cutting after a rough patch of games snapping the ball. In 2018, Minnesota cut rookie kicker Daniel Carlson after he missed three field goals in a 29-29 tie against the Packers. The move was made even after the Vikings had traded up in the fifth round to draft the big-legged kicker from Auburn. It was expected that he would shore up the kicking game after Blair Walsh and Kai Forbath were inconsistent from 2015 through 2017. A week later, Bailey was kicking for the Vikings.
However, Carlson signed with the Raiders soon after being cut and has turned into the kicker that the Vikings expected him to become when they drafted him. Perhaps that will give the Vikings pause before moving on from Bailey. Besides, he entered Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay as the league’s sixth-most accurate kicker of all-time. His track record speaks for itself, and this is the first time he has had a cold streak in Minnesota in three seasons.
With a division game coming up at home against the Chicago Bears and then a short week to travel down to face the New Orleans Saints on a Friday afternoon Christmas Day, the Vikings’ decision on Bailey’s future will need to be done this week. If Minnesota holds onto him, they probably won’t be able to move on from him if he struggles against the Bears because of the fast turnaround and Covid protocol making free-agent visits and signings a longer process than a normal season. If they feel like they should move on from Bailey, Minnesota should cut him this week and sign a free agent to replace him. Like the regular season, Minnesota’s patience with Bailey is running out.