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Hunter Smith Takes The Blame For The Final PAT

Posted by Matt Terl on December 12, 2010 – 5:02 pm

Saying that today was “rough” for Redskins kicker Graham Gano is a catastrophic bit of understatement. Gano missed two makeable field goals — a 34 yarder banged clear off the left upright and a 24 yarder wide left — and didn’t even get the chance to attempt the final PAT, which led to the painful moment above.

Gano has only been in the NFL for two seasons, but he knows perfectly well that a game like this can cost a kicker his job — and, in fact, that a game like this did just that to a Redskins kicker last year. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” Gano said. “I’ve seen it happen before. That’s what happened to me last year — that’s how I got here. I definitely wouldn’t be surprised. But I’m just as confident as ever. It’s my second year kicking in the NFL and I think I’ll be here for a long time.”

Fortunately for Gano (at least for the moment), his head coach seems to agree, saying that he wouldn’t be bringing in tryout kickers this week. “He has been very consistent for us in practice,” Mike Shanahan said. “He’s young and I think he has a great future. Hopefully, he can put this behind him and when he gets in the same situation he’ll put it through the uprights.”

But there are other people who might be concerned as well:the botched PAT comes down to two people: long snapper Nick Sundberg and punter Hunter Smith, and their involvement was unsuccessful enough that it ensured that Gano never even had a chance to redeem himself (or get himself further in trouble).

Here’s the screen capture of the crucial moment of that failed final extra point from today’s game, courtesy of Mike Prada at SBNation DC:

“I think it was a little higher than I wanted it to be,” Sundberg said. “Conditions and everything, I know, don’t help Hunter in that situation.”

As you can see in the picture, it was definitely a little higher than Sundberg presumably wanted — and it’s not the first snap that Smith has had to work to get placed. So people would be perfectly justified in asking if the team would be looking at other long snappers as well.

But one person who thinks that would be a rash decision is Hunter Smith himself.

“I would think it was a mistake, personally, to blame our young snapper or our young kicker for this game because they are great talents,” Smith said.

And, he said, “we did what we needed to tie this game up and go on to win it. I think if anybody needs to be concerned about their job, it’s me, and I trust God in that sort of thing and I’m gonna lean on him and let the powers that be make whatever decision they make.”

Smith was a stand-up guy, fielding the same questions about the play over and over again until everyone had finished. And he was matter-of-fact about what happened, refusing to blame his teammates or the elements or anyone else. “It’s raining,” he said, shrugging. “The ball is wet when it goes on the field, it’s wet when it’s put down, it’s wet when Donovan throws a touchdown pass to put us in a situation to tie the game. And it’s wet when I go out and have to hold the ball in a manner that we can kick the ball and tie the game up. I didn’t do that.”

And, later, he summed that sentiment up even more concisely: “The ball’s catchable; the kick is makeable; put this one on me. If anybody needs to take the blame, I’m willing to take it.”

This, Smith believes, is all part of the growing process teams have to undergo as they become great. Or good, at least. “I think that changing the culture of a team takes a long time,” Smith said. “I played in Indianpolis; Indianapolis had a culture of losing and befuddling calamity and things like that, and it took a few good players, it took a coaching change and building a culture of winning. And I think that’s just what has to happen here. Coach Shanahan is a winner; he’s a proven winner. There’s some great character on this team, it’s just a matter of … this is a microwave culture and this is gonna take a bit more of a crockpot approach.”

There’s definitely some long, low-and-slow melting together that needs to go on here. Smith is right about that. Whether or not the current special teams ingredients are the correct ones, though … I’d think that these guys would need to prove a lot in the three remaining games.

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