By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
He had a handful of legitimate excuses to choose from late last night -- offseason abdominal surgery, an aging leg, a rocky preseason -- but John Hall picked none. The Redskins kicker said he walked onto the field with 17 seconds left under almost ideal conditions. His leg felt strong. He took deep breaths and felt relaxed. He liked the way the ball ricocheted off his foot.
"It would have been perfect," Hall said, "if only I made the kick."
Instead, Hall missed wide left on a 48-yard field goal attempt, sealing the Redskins' 19-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the season opener. Hall stood by his locker after the game and accepted condolences from supportive teammates. Each player echoed a similar theme: It's just one kick, they said.
But it extended a troubling trend.
Hall's costly miss compounded a disastrous six months for the veteran kicker. He underwent abdominal surgery and missed two kicks in preseason games. He stopped kicking off, a strategy meant to save his leg for long, crucial field goals. It hardly paid off last night.
"You've got to go out there and make that kick, and I just didn't," Hall said. "I take full responsibility. You throw yourself out there in the middle of the ring like that, and you're going to get knocked down. I just have to get back up."
Hall said the last 50 seconds of last night's game passed quickly for him, and he felt somewhat confused about the game situation as the Redskins drove down the field to set up his final kick. Hall was standing behind a coach when Mark Brunell threw a five-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El on third and six. Hall, who had kept busy warming for most of the Redskins' drive, saw the completion and thought Washington had converted a first down.
"I didn't think I was going on yet," Hall said. "I didn't really know what was happening."
Coaches motioned Hall onto the field and, as he jogged onto the grass, he tried to sort out the details of the game. He thought it was third down, not fourth. He felt unsure exactly how much time remained. He stepped behind holder Derrick Frost and cleared his mind. He felt he was ready. Then he booted the ball -- "It felt clean," he said -- and watched it sail left.
Coaches and teammates spent the next 30 minutes consoling Hall, who made three short kicks in the game and has converted several clutch kicks in his 10-year career. Joe Gibbs said he never felt worried about Hall's leg strength. Randle El said he should have lunged to get Hall a few yards closer. Tackle Jon Jansen told Hall to erase his memory. "Especially when you're a kicker," Jansen said, "you have to remember that it's a long season."
But Hall's kick continued a trend that started awhile ago, which makes it harder to dismiss. Hall has made 6 of 11 kicks from 40 yards or longer during the last two seasons, and he's missed both of his tries from 50-plus. He's solid from short distances -- he's made all of his kicks from inside 30 yards since 2000 -- but injuries have often kept him off the field.
Hall has missed 14 games during the last two seasons with various leg injuries. Gibbs has remained adamant that his kicker has "plenty of leg," but Frost, also the team's punter, now kicks off. Hall missed kicks of 42 and 43 yards during the preseason.
"That kick was within his range," Gibbs said. "It was just one of those things."
Said Hall: "I know I should have made it. I know I could have made it. But none of that really means anything if you don't hit the kick."