After missing both of his field goals in New England to begin the preseason, Dustin Hopkins nailed three short attempts last week versus Cincinnati. So, the hope going into Washington's Saturday game against Baltimore was that Hopkins could turn in another perfect performance and give any lingering questions about his job the boot.
Unfortunately, whatever optimism there was regarding Hopkins' progress vanished after one particularly discouraging try in the second quarter of the matchup with the Ravens.
After a Washington drive stalled out on the visitors' 38-yard line, Ron Rivera opted to send Hopkins out onto the field for what ended up as a look from 55 yards away.
Now, a kick from that distance is certainly a serious ask for most, if not all, pros, and as Rivera eventually told reporters in his press conference, he wasn't even that concerned with the final result. All he wanted to see was "a good snap, a good hold, and a good swing."
What he ended up seeing, though, was a very low ball from Hopkins, one that appeared to hit someone's hand or helmet on its way by the line of scrimmage (it was awfully hard to confirm on replay). Regardless of whether it was blocked or not, it didn't have any real chance to make it through the uprights from the moment it left the ground, and Hopkins had to trot back to the sidelines after his third August miss.
When it was his turn behind the podium a few hours later, Hopkins explained what went wrong in that sequence.
"Tonight, my process was not good on the first kick, and it bothers me," he said. "I'm looking to the play clock and all I'm thinking about is trying to hurry up. I didn't have any of the keys that I usually have going into a kick that typically make me successful. And so I hate that a huge mental error led to poor physical execution."
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Hearing a veteran specialist like Hopkins relay that he failed to adhere to his usual routine is a little worrisome. But in talking with others who share his same pressure-packed job, he's found that it's somewhat common to suddenly overthink or focus on a distracting aspect and end up getting in your own way of converting when it's time to do so.
"It's funny how many conversations with guys that are really good go something like, ‘Man, I had these cues that worked really well for six weeks and then all of a sudden they weren’t working and you have to find new cues,'" Hopkins said. "I feel like golf is overused but maybe it's like in golf where guys feel like they are in a really good rhythm and then they lose something."
Not all was lost on the evening for Hopkins. With 11 seconds to go in the first half, he was tasked with drilling a 48-yarder, and that's precisely what he did. That stood out to Hopkins' head coach.
"He came back, kicked another one, it was perfect, and I loved the operation," Rivera said.
Hopkins — who handled his presser extremely well when he knew it wasn't going to be a positive one — reiterated to the media that he's thankful for the three exhibition outings the Burgundy and Gold has suited up for this month, because they've exposed some issues that he, Camaron Cheeseman and Tress Way have been addressing as much as possible.
Still, Hopkins acknowledged what all NFL kickers understand about their occupation: All eyes will be on him when the referees signal "no good" on a field goal or PAT. Therefore, he accepted the blame for the errant second-quarter blast and knows that he can't continue to struggle like he has lately.
"What happened," Hopkins said, "was 100 percent me ... Ultimately, I'm the last guy to get a look at the ball, and I need to make kicks."
Rivera has backed the 30-year-old during the recent slump, much like he did in 2020 when Hopkins was inconsistent before closing strong. Barring something unforeseen, Hopkins will be in place for Washington's Week 1 meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers. From there, however, he may be living on a kick-to-kick basis.