Drunkards, Raiders, sports betting addicts, lend me your feet. I come not to bury the Silver and Black, but to praise them.
The 2021 Las Vegas Raiders are a unique combination of grit, determination, and talent. They are the modern-day rendition of 1980’s Kardiac Kids. Their coach’s demeanor more closely matches Henny Youngman than John Madden. Their quarterback proclaims "That’s on me" more times than fans grab antacids during a heart-pounding, Raider victory.
And their placekicker, Daniel Carlson, has been nothing short of phenomenal during a most-improbable playoff year.
In 62 seasons of professional football in the AFC, the Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland-Las Vegas Raiders had never played four overtime games during the regular season—let alone win all four of them.
And, in those four overtime wins, Daniel Carlson made 15 out of 15 field goal attempts. Let’s see, that’s, uh…100%.
It was 1st-and-ten, Silver and Black at the Chargers’ 29-yard line, 00:02 remaining in overtime. Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers were locked in a 32-32 tie, and the winner of the contest punched the clock for a ticket into the playoffs.
Snap’s good, hold’s good…Raiders in, Chargers out.
PLAY OF THE GAME.
Good kickers are hard to come by. How good is Daniel Carlson? Let’s compare his 2021 season against the best years from three decades of renowned Raider kickers:
1973: George Blanda, 23 FG made of 33 attempts: 69.7%;
1983: Chris Bahr, 21 FG made of 27 attempts: 77.8%;
2012: Sebastian Janikowski, 31 FG made of 34 attempts: 91.2%;
2021: Daniel Carlson, 40 FG made of 43 attempts: 93.0%.
Let it be said: Daniel Carlson is the best kicker in the American Football Conference. In 2020, Mr. Carlson set a Raider franchise record with 33 field goals made in 35 attempts (94.3%). This season, counting 40 field goals out of 43 attempts, with four overtime wins and the Silver and Black qualifying for the playoffs, is the better season.
Daniel Carlson was waived in September, 2018 by the Minnesota Vikings (thank you) and was signed by the Raiders toward the end of the next month. So who gets the credit for finding this #2 boot de jure? Was it the incisive vision of Mr. Racist Trope? Did Reggie McKenzie locate this 6’5" diamond-in-the-rough—and then Reggie-Reggie was fired six weeks later for the privilege? It hardly matters. This writer only cares that Daniel Carlson now wears the Silver and Black. The credit for signing this kicking titan to a 4 year, $18,400,000 contract in the beginning of December, 2021 goes to Raider General Manager Mike Mayock.
One thing is certain: the credit for being a great placekicker belongs with Daniel Carlson. He even has his own signature gesture: Just before he kicks the football, Carlson pulls down on the front of his shoulder pads. This works nearly every time for the 6’5", 215 lb. colossus. In an effort to emulate these enviable production numbers, I have taken to pulling down on the front collars of my pajamas just before embarking on 90 seconds of scintillating lovemaking with my spouse. This effort has been met with mixed results.
There are no mixed results, however, on a field goal try. Either it is good or it is not good. No bueno. On the field of play, the kicker stands by himself—but he is not alone. There are eleven Raider players on the field during all field goal attempts. Long Snapper Trent Sieg has to deliver a quick arrow of a snap to holder A.J. Cole. Mr. Cole has to catch the snap, place the football down exactly and spin the laces out.
A million things can go wrong in a field goal attempt:
--Clock Management can be an issue; there may be no timeouts left.
--Inclement weather may be a factor. Cincinnati’s Saturday forecast is 27 degrees with a five-to-ten-mile-per-hour wind from the NE.
--The opposing coach can call a last-moment timeout in an attempt to "freeze" Daniel Carlson.
--An opposing player can jump offside in an attempt to block the kick, as Cowboys C.J. Goodwin did twice in the Thanksgiving game.
"For me, it’s just blocking it out and taking one rep at a time," said Carlson. "It felt like an eternity out there, having to kick it–I think I kicked three of them. Really, I kicked two of them, one I was like, ‘I might as well try to hit it and maybe even with a flag, it’ll count,’ so I kind of half kicked it. You know, trying to take them one at a time and seal the deal."
--This writer doesn’t want to talk about any of the other things that can go wrong in a field goal attempt. Bad ju-ju.
One final factor should be discussed, and that is the assignment Daniel Carlson accepts to step on the field. Yes, of course, his name is called—but that cliché is an oversimplification unworthy of Raider fans’ thought.
The assignment consists of four questions to be answered: When, where, why, and how.
"When" is known within reason. Raider fans understand that, every time Derek Carr fades back on third down to pass, he can be sacked. In certain games, the chance of Carr being sacked are about the same as will a child find a seashell they like while walking on the beach.
"Where" is unknown. Not only is the distance unknown, but the position of the football on the field is unknown: left hashmark, center, right hashmark. Baltimore’s 55-yard field goal to tie the game 27 – 27 with seven seconds to go in regulation was from the right hashmark. The three others—Miami (22-yard), Dallas (29-yard), and Los Angeles Chargers (47-yard) were all left hashmark.
"Why" is known:
1) To tie the game;
2) To narrow the deficit;
3) To extend the lead;
4) To win the game.
"How" is known:
This is it. Three seconds remaining in overtime at Paul Brown Stadium. A trip to the second round awaits. Score is tied, 24 – 24. Las Vegas Raiders are set to attempt a 38-yard field goal. Wind is blowing at Daniel Carlson’s back, ten miles-per-hour. Trent Sieg is ready to snap the football to holder A.J. Cole. There’s the snap, the kick is up, it’s….
Las Vegas Raiders 27, Cincinnati Bengals 24.
Author, Football’s Blackest Hole