Things got so ugly on Monday night that the Cowboys almost ran out of balls at Raymond James Stadium. That’s because their first two ended up in the stands after Brett Maher missed so badly on back-to-back extra point attempts.
If the Cowboys had lost their third, they would have had to use one of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ kickballs.
“Just kind of a perfect storm of a bad kicking day,” Dallas special teams coordinator John Fassel said.
Fassel has coached special teams units in the NFL since 2005. He’s never been on a team that had to turn to their third kicking ball. He has also never seen a kicker miss four consecutive extra point attempts.
Fassel believes Maher went through the yips, a term often used in sports to describe a sudden and unexplained loss of a skill. This has happened to him before with previous kickers, notably the mention of Sebastian Janikowski and Greg Zuerlein.
“I believe in a hot hand and I believe in the yips,” Fassel said. “Absolutely. You sometimes wonder how you get in the yips and you sometimes wonder how you get back in the hot hand. And I think it goes to the line and shoots. (Maher) missed a couple of free throws ( Monday evening).
“I don’t know what it is, but I believe in the yips and I believe in the hot hand. His hand was hot. Let’s be honest. … And then the howling happens. So I expect a hot hand.”
Maher made 50 of his 53 extra points during the season. He was 29 of 32 on his field goal attempts, including 9 of 11 from 50+ yards. For his career, Maher is 128 out 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. Luckily 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 wildcard win over the Buccaneers.
“I definitely didn’t do my part (Monday night),” Maher said. “This team is too good for me not to be able to do that, so do it again this week.”
The Cowboys plan to have Maher stay in San Francisco for foosball Sunday.
“Damn it, yes,” Fassel said. “If you ask me, absolutely.”
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Tuesday morning they were “looking into” their kicking situation. He also said it’s possible that Maher’s kicks could affect Dallas’s ability to hit twos after touchdowns more often.
“It would be a really big setback to go into the rest of this tournament, the rest of this playoffs, with tremors at the 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 stay with Maher.
“We will move forward,” McCarthy said on Tuesday. “From now on 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 posts. And he’s been super productive and consistent for us. It’s like everything, we all work together every day and I believe in that and I believe in him and his path.
“I think in this business, especially in this game, you learn more from your experience when things aren’t going your way as opposed to your success. Just like our entire football team. We came from Washington and we got hit in the jaw and I think we responded clearly. I think he definitely has that in him.”
Brett Maher had missed three extra points all season before missing four against Tampa Bay. (Kim Klement / USA Today)
Maher, 33, has bounced around in the NFL for 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 began. 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 towards 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 during training camp in August after Dallas fired undrafted rookie Jonathan Garibay. Maher then beat Lirim Hajrullahu for the job.
“I spoke to Brett (Tuesday morning),” Fassel said. “We had a great conversation about (Monday night) because I think the biggest thing for us is not to pretend it didn’t happen and just move on. We approached it from a kind of “what happened” perspective, mentally and physically. We talked about our plan this week. So we go through with a normal plan.
“He was desperate, just like me. I share all the torments of the players. Just as it should be as a competitor. He knows it’s just a bad day at the office. I have full confidence that he will recover. Yes, it’s certainly partly psychological. I don’t think there is anything physical. The first two, if you asked him he was a bit lazy on the finish on the first and kind of dead run on the second. Then he just overcorrected a bit on the third. And then the fourth is just a kind of mental process.”
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After Maher’s third miss, ESPN TV coverage showed a clearly frustrated Cowboys QB Dak Prescott slamming his helmet on the sidelines and saying, “Go for f—— two!”
Prescott said he spoke to Maher after the game about his emotional reaction.
“I’m ‘Money’ Maher’s biggest fan,” Prescott said. “Obviously (I) was shown the video by me, it’s just emotions, that’s part of it. I spoke to him individually, after the game I simply told him not to do it, we will need him. I was just playing like a week ago, I mean that happens. But when you believe in each other, believe in what we’re capable of and when you know what this guy has accomplished, with the resilience that he’s shown throughout his personal career, I have no doubt he’s next come back this 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, dressing room and coaching staff that I have,” Maher said. “It totally built me up. I appreciate each and every one of them. It is time for me to do my part.”
Fassel noted that the location where the Cowboys will play on Sunday isn’t the most foosball-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 to that,” Maher said of his trial this week. “Hit some balls, have a great week of practice and get ready.”
(Top Photo by Brett Maher: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)