When the Washington Redskins chose Kai Forbath over two NFL veterans last month to replace their struggling place kicker, Billy Cundiff, the odds might have seemed stacked decidedly against him.
He never had kicked in an NFL regular season game, and he was joining an organization with a nearly two-decade-old penchant for discarding kickers almost as quickly as it has signed them. Forbath became the Redskins’ 20th kicker since the 1994 season. He wasn’t even aware at the time of just how daunting his task was.
“I didn’t know the whole history about how many they’ve had over the last 20 years or whatever,” Forbath said this week at Redskins Park. “But people have told me since I’ve been here.”
It has taken only six games for Forbath to give the Redskins some hope that they perhaps have found a kicker, finally, to give them some stability at the position. Forbath has connected on all 10 of his field goal attempts, seven of them 43 yards or longer.
When things appeared to be unraveling for the Redskins during their Thanksgiving game in Dallas, with the Cowboys having rallied from a 28-3 halftime deficit to get to within 35-28 in the fourth quarter, Forbath essentially sealed the outcome by calmly making a 48-yard field goal with just less than three minutes to play. The Redskins won, 38-31, to pull into a second-place tie in the NFC East.
“It’s nice to see that he’s made a lot of kicks in a row but he doesn’t really show it,” Redskins long snapper Nick Sundberg said. “He still sees things as he should, in the fact that everything he’s done to this point doesn’t matter. It’s all about the next kick. So he’s already got a veteran’s mentality and he’s a young guy.”
One of the best decisions made by the Redskins this year came when they opted to go with Forbath, 25, to succeed Cundiff. The Redskins had staged a kicking competition during training camp and the preseason between Graham Gano and Neil Rackers. They’d cut both of them to go with Cundiff, who had just been released by the Baltimore Ravens, entering the season. But Cundiff missed 5 of 12 field goal tries, and the Redskins held an early October tryout for Forbath, Olindo Mare and Josh Brown to choose a new kicker.
Forbath is a former winner of the Lou Groza award as the top kicker in college football while at UCLA, and he made all five of his field goal attempts for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the preseason this year. But he did not have an NFL résumé resembling that of Mare, who has made 350 field goals in 15 seasons, and Brown, with 220 field goals in 10 seasons.
“Of course you’re thinking they’re bringing these veterans in because they want someone reliable,” Forbath said this week. “Fortunately, I kicked well during the workout and they thought I was deserving of a chance.”
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan joked recently that the choice of Forbath was “just a great decision a couple weeks ago on our part.”
But he acknowledged that the Redskins, in truth, took a chance on Forbath and have been rewarded for it.
“You never know,” Shanahan said. “You’re just hoping. . . . He came out here with two veterans. To be honest with you, he was a guy that nobody really even talked about. And you watch him kick, and he won it legitimately.”
For the Redskins, the far easier choice at the time would have been to go with a more established kicker, with the stakes so high as Shanahan tries to get the team turned around in his third season.
“I always take a look at those other couple kickers, and they’ve been cut for a reason,” Shanahan said. “I’m not sure why. Sometimes it’s age. . . . But if they’re out there on the street and then this guy [Forbath] really has never had an opportunity, I’m just going to judge him from what they do on the field. . . . And sometimes all of a sudden they’re 0 for 4, it makes you look kind of silly. But when a guy comes through like he has, you’re just glad he took advantage of that opportunity.”
Forbath spent last season on the Cowboys’ injured reserve list, and he knew that his solid preseason performance in Tampa wasn’t going to earn him a job there because the Buccaneers already have a dependable kicker in Connor Barth. So he went back home to the West Coast after being released by the Buccaneers and waited for the telephone to ring while staying ready by working out at UCLA.
“I thought I did what I needed to do in Tampa,” Forbath said. “But, you know, kickers started off really well this year. So the first few weeks was a little discouraging because guys were like the highest [field goal] percentage they’ve ever had in the first few weeks. I was hoping it would come sooner rather than later.”
Forbath said his family members might have been rooting for NFL kickers to miss while he waited for his chance. But he never did, he said, fearing “bad karma.” He certainly has made the most of his opportunity with the Redskins, and he calls his early success satisfying. But that still hasn’t made the job easy, Forbath said, even if he has made it look that way.
“I feel pressure before all kicks,” Forbath said. “I think everyone does. But it’s just keeping a level head and going out there and being able to execute your technique and make the kick, which is what makes great kickers great.”