If the Dallas Cowboys had one big problem during the first half of their opener in Tampa on Thursday night, it was definitely their kicking game. Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein missed two field goals and an extra point and every one of those misses ended up being costly in a game the Cowboys would eventually lose 31-29.
Zuerlein did hit one clutch kick, which came in the fourth quarter. With the Cowboys trailing 28-26, Dak Prescott drove his team into Tampa Bay territory before the drive ended up stalling at the Buccaneers’ 30-yard line. With the Cowboys facing a fourth-and-6, Mike McCarthy had two options: Go for the first down or send out Zuerlein, who went 1 of 3 on field goals in the first half.
McCarthy elected to try the kick and his faith in Zuerlein paid off when his kicker drilled a 48-yarder.
It was quite the redeeming kick for Zuerlein, who had an ugly first half.
For Zuerlein, the trouble started in the second quarter. After the Cowboys drove down to Tampa Bay’s 13-yard line, McCarthy had a decision to make with his team facing fourth-and-3. At that point in the game, the Cowboys were trailing just 14-7, so McCarthy decided to send his kicker out for a 31-yard field goal attempt, a kick that’s shorter than an extra point.
McCarthy probably regretted his decision almost immediately after Zuerlein got off an ugly kick that missed way to the left.
To put into perspective how rare it is to miss a kick from that range: NFL kickers hit 96.3% of their kicks from that range in 2020 (Only nine kickers missed a field goal of 31 yards or less in 2020 and six of those nine aren’t on an active roster heading into Week 1 of this year).
Five plays after the fumble, the Cowboys capitalized on the turnover when Prescott hit Amari Cooper for a 5-yard touchdown. However, the TD celebration was short-lived because Zuerlein missed the extra point (It hit off the left upright) and the Cowboys were left trailing 14-13.
At that point, NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya noted that she talked to Zuerlein before the game and that “he didn’t seem that confident,” which is not something you want to hear about your kicker.
At the end of the half, Zuerlein also missed a 60-yard attempt, but considering there was only one successful field goal of 60 yards or more in the entire NFL last offseason, it wasn’t a huge shock that Zuerlein missed the kick. Overall, he he went 1 of 3 on field goals in the first half and 1 of 2 on extra points.
The game against the Buccaneers was just the second game that Zuerlein played in this year, including the preseason. Due to offseason back surgery, the kicker missed the Cowboys’ first three preseason games and ended up only playing in their preseason finale.
The fact that he made a 48-yard field goal might end up being enough to save his job, but don’t be surprised if the Cowboys bring in a few kickers this week. The fact of that matter is that Zuerlein left four easy points on the board — with his missed 31-yarder and the missed extra point — and in a game that was decided by two points, he’ll probably be kicking himself for his performance.