Perhaps it’s fitting right about now that Robbie Gould’s NFL career began with the training camp of the New England Patriots, and kicker Adam Vinatieri. Because right about now Vinatieri offers some intriguing angles when evaluating Gould after the latter has missed five of his 14 field goal attempts.
Is Gould done at age 33? Or just going through a dip, which happens to just about everyone in his line of work?
Consider Vinatieri, who at age 41 had the most accurate single season (98.6 percent on FG’s) of his 20-year career. As an aside, seven-time Pro Bowl’er Morten Anderson had his highest percentage (89.3) in the last of his 25 seasons before retiring in 2007 at age 47.
To begin with, the NFL doesn’t grade on a curve. It is a pure form of pass-fail: win-lose, maybe a tie now and again.
But comparisons for the sake of perspective can be useful, or at least informational, certainly in the case of Gould, whose two missed field goals contributed mightily to the Bears’ loss last Sunday to the San Francisco 49ers. Those haven’t been and aren’t expected to be the norm.
“For a guy that's been around as long as Robbie,” Bears special teams coach Jeff Rodgers said, “he's got his ways of fixing things, some mechanical things that he goes through and makes sure that he details everything out and you trust a guy like that to bounce back because he has many times.”
The point here is to place Gould’s situation in some sort of context deeper than simply that he’s been good for a long time. And the context reflects well on Gould for the future, not just the past or even present.
The ideal is to have a dependable kicker for a long time, but longevity requires periodic patience with a sometimes-mercurial position. For that reason, the Gould reference point will be Vinatieri, who turns 43 this month and shared a training camp with Gould, whose 34th birthday comes two days after Vinatieri’s Dec. 28. If the Bears get from Gould what the Patriots and then the Colts have from Vinatieri, Gould will rank among the great free-agent finds of NFL history.
The Bears had the good fortune of Gould not catching on with elsewhere after he spent time in the New England Patriots 2005 training camp with Vinatieri.
Talk of Gould’s demise as an NFL kicker began with some seriousness last season when he converted just nine of 12 field goals through 12 games before going on IR with a quad injury. With five misses through 12 games this season, Gould’s conversion rate still stands at 83.9 percent.
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Vinatieri has had six sub-80-percent seasons in his 18 full seasons. Gould has had never been worse than 83.3 percent (2010) in any of his seven 16-game seasons.
But the more relevant point is not the past, but the future. What can the Bears expect from Gould, who is signed through the 2017 season?
“I wouldn't say his skill has trended downward,” Rodgers said. “Time will tell on everything as it relates to the entire season. He's had a lot of good games, and he's hit a lot of good kicks. Hopefully, it was a bad day and we'll see moving forward.”
Gould is not Vinatieri, so projections aren’t easy. But Vinatieri from the age of 34, the year he left New England for Indianapolis, has more than justified the Colts’ faith in him, converting 80 percent or better in six of his eight full Indianapolis seasons, with an indoor home field.
Vinatieri has missed two PAT’s this year with the new kicking point. Gould has missed one, blocked in the Oakland game.
The Bears have given no indication of contemplating a change at a set-it-and-forget-it position, not even bothering with a camp leg through preseason this year. But teams have been rewarded for staying with proven kickers through rough spots and the Bears should be in no rush to replace Gould.