Things got so ugly Monday night that the Cowboys almost ran out of kicking balls at Raymond James Stadium. That’s because their first two ended up in the stands after Brett Maher missed so badly on consecutive extra-point attempts.
If the Cowboys had lost their third, they would’ve had to use one of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ kicking balls.
“Just kind of a perfect storm of a bad kicking day,” Dallas special teams coordinator John Fassel said.
Fassel has been coaching special teams units in the NFL since 2005. He’s never been with a team that had to turn to its third kicking ball. He has also never experienced a kicker missing four consecutive extra-point attempts.
Fassel believes Maher was going through the yips, a term used often in sports to describe a sudden and unexplained loss of a skill. He’s had it happen to previous kickers, specifically mentioning Sebastian Janikowski and Greg Zuerlein.
“I believe in a hot hand and I believe in the yips,” Fassel said. “Absolutely. You wonder sometimes how you get into the yips, and you wonder sometimes how you get back into the hot hand. And I think it’s stepping up to the line and shooting. (Maher) missed a couple free throws (Monday night).
“I don’t know what it is, but I believe in the yips and I believe in the hot hand. He had a hot hand. Let’s face it. … And then the yips happen. So, I expect a hot hand coming up.”
Maher made 50 of his 53 extra points during the season. He was 29 of 32 on his field goal attempts, which included making 9 of 11 from 50-plus yards. For his career, Maher is 128 of 134 on extra-point attempts.
But Monday night was alarming. In his third career playoff game, Maher missed his first four extra points before finally making his fifth. Fortunately for him and the Cowboys, the game was never close enough for a few points to make the difference. Dallas advanced to the divisional round with a convincing 31-14 wild-card win over the Buccaneers.
“I definitely didn’t do my part (Monday night),” Maher said. “This team is too good moving forward for me not to do that, so get back at it this week.”
The Cowboys plan on Maher remaining their kicker Sunday at San Francisco.
“Hell, yeah,” Fassel said. “If you ask me, absolutely.”
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Tuesday morning that they would “take a look” at their kicking situation. He also said it’s possible that Maher’s kicking could impact Dallas going for two more frequently after touchdowns.
“It would be really a big setback to go into the rest of this tournament, rest of this playoff, with shakeness at kicker,” Jones said during his weekly radio appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that the plan was to stick with Maher.
“We’re going to forge ahead,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “As of right now, that’s the plan.”
“At the end of the day, we all have a job to do,” McCarthy added. “He knows he has to put the ball through the uprights. And he’s been super productive and consistent for us. It’s like anything, we all work with each other every day and that’s what I believe in and I believe in him and his path.
“I think so much in this business, especially this game, you learn more from your experiences when it doesn’t go the way you like as opposed to the success of it. So just like our whole football team. We came out of Washington and got punched in the jaw and I think we clearly responded. I think he definitely has that in him.”
Maher, 33, has bounced around the NFL over the past decade. This is his third time with the Cowboys. He signed with Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2013 but was released before the season started. After spending the next four years in the Canadian Football League, Maher was the Cowboys’ kicker during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Accuracy issues led to Dallas releasing him near the end of the 2019 season. Over the next two years, Maher kicked for the Jets, Washington, Texans, Cardinals and Saints. He returned to the Cowboys in August during training camp after Dallas released undrafted rookie Jonathan Garibay. Maher then beat out Lirim Hajrullahu for the job.
“I talked to Brett (Tuesday morning),” Fassel said. “We had a great conversation about (Monday night) because I think the biggest thing for us is to not pretend like it didn’t happen and just kind of move on. We addressed it from kind of a ‘what happened’ perspective, mentally and physically. We talked about our plan this week. So, we’ll go through with a normal plan.
“He was entertained, like I am. I share in all of the players’ agony. So, like he should be as a competitor. He knows that it’s just a bad day at the office. I have full confidence he’ll rebound. Yes, it’s part psychological for sure. I don’t think there is anything physical. The first two, if you asked him, he was a little bit lazy on the finish on the first one and kind of toed the second one. Then he just kind of overcorrected on the third one. And then the fourth one is just kind of the mental process.”
Sturm: The Cowboys unleash their stars on Tom Brady in spectacular fashion
After Maher’s third miss, ESPN’s TV coverage showed a clearly frustrated Cowboys QB Dak Prescott slamming his helmet on the sideline and saying “Go for f—— two!”
Prescott said he spoke with Maher after the game about his emotional reaction.
“I’m ‘Money’ Maher’s biggest fan,” Prescott said. “Obviously (I was) shown the video of me, it’s just emotions, that’s part of it. I talked to him individually, just told him after the game to let that go, we’re going to need him. I just played like s—a week ago, I mean, that happens. But when you believe in each other, you believe in what we’re capable of doing and knowing what that guy has done, with the resilience he’s shown throughout his career personally, I have no doubt he’ll come back next week and be perfect and help us win.”
Prescott was not alone. Several teammates and coaches shared their support after the game.
“I feel very fortunate to have the teammates, the locker room and the coaching staff that I do,” Maher said. “That absolutely lifted me up. I appreciate every single one of them. It’s time for me to do my part.”
Fassel noted that where the Cowboys will be playing Sunday isn’t exactly the most kicker-friendly environment. Levi’s Stadium is an outdoor venue with a grass field and wind could be a factor. 49ers kicker Robbie Gould is 30 of 31 kicking extra points there this season. Maher has never played at Levi’s Stadium.
“Get back at it,” Maher said of his process this week. “Hit some balls, have a great week of practice, get myself ready to go.”
(Top photo of Brett Maher: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)