By Len Pasquarelli
It is the weakness of a lot of NFL teams: They rarely acknowledge a mistake.
That's why the Atlanta Falcons deserve credit this week, sort of, for folding their cards and conceding that the experiment to allow second-year veteran Michael Koenen to handle all three kicking chores this season was an abysmal failure.
Actually, the Atlanta brass never really said that it botched the place-kicking component of the game with the inexperienced Koenen, but actions speak louder than words. And when the Falcons reacted to Koenen's four missed field goals in last Sunday's victory over Tampa Bay by signing ageless wonder Morten Andersen on Tuesday evening, it was the equivalent of a concession speech.
And the end of a really, really big blunder.
How could it be viewed any other way? The Falcons' brass opted not to re-sign veteran kicker and unrestricted free agent Todd Peterson this spring, even though he converted 23 of 25 field goal tries in 2005. They said they wanted to get younger at the position, to develop a kicker for the long-term. Last time we checked, Andersen, 46, is 10 years older than Peterson, and will become on Monday night the second-oldest player to appear in an NFL game.
So come 2007, assuming Andersen isn't around, the Falcons will be back to Square One in terms of finding a young kicker for the future.
Maybe, as the team suggested this week, that kicker still will be Koenen. Part of the reason for pulling the plug on the Koenen experiment, coach Jim Mora said, was because the team didn't want to destroy the confidence of the youngster. But once a kicker develops the NFL equivalent of golf's "yips," reversing the course of what is going on inside his head becomes a difficult task.
Atlanta hired kicking guru Steve Hoffman this year, the guy who had unearthed seven low-rent field goal specialists for the Dallas Cowboys over the past 14 years, because he had a track record for finding guys on the street who could kick the ball through the posts and do it for the minimum wage. Hoffman's magic ran out, though, with Koenen. Let's be honest, how much is Hoffman going to help Andersen, a guy who all but invented the clutch field goal?
In their hearts, even some Atlanta officials must have felt the Koenen experiment might fail, since there had been continuing dialogue between Andersen and Mora much of the offseason. Make no mistake, Andersen, who first worked out for Falcons coaches in June, was the fallback guy all along. He lives just 15 minutes from the team complex, has a long relationship with Mora, and wanted back in the league so that he could pursue the all-time scoring record.
Getting Andersen, assuming he can still kick -- and he knocked a 55-yarder high off the right upright in his Tuesday audition for Falcons coaches and general manager Rich McKay, his lone miss in eight attempts -- is a tremendous move on and off the field. He is a class act, a funny guy in the locker room, and the man who authored the biggest kick in franchise history, the overtime field goal in the 1998 NFC championship game that propelled the Falcons into Super Bowl XXXIII.
That field goal, by the way, earned Andersen a $300,000 bonus check, since then-agent Greg Campbell cleverly had written such a Super Bowl incentive into his client's contract.
Andersen hopes again to put some playoff money into the pockets of a Falcons team that certainly seems, two games into the season, like it can make a Super Bowl run. The question is why the Falcons so badly misjudged Koenen's mental mettle. The answer: Kicking coaches like Hoffman or Atlanta special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis can work on mechanics and technique, but there is no coaching up a guy when the stuff between his ears turns to mush.
The only other lingering point in the botched field goal experiment was why Falcons management was so disingenuous with Peterson, a good guy who served the team well in 2005. As late as Tuesday morning, at about the time Andersen was arriving for his eight-kick audition, an Atlanta personnel staffer was telling Peterson's agent that his client was still on the team's radar screen.
Truth be told, there was never a chance that the Falcons were going to turn to Peterson to solve their self-made problem, because the politics just weren't right. It's one thing to correct a mistake. It's another to have to turn to the guy you snubbed to help you correct it. There is someone, or a group of someones in the Atlanta organization, that seems to hold Peterson personally responsible for the field goal attempt he had blocked in the penultimate game of the '05 season.
The blocked kick contributed to the Falcons extending their dubious streak of never having posted consecutive winning seasons.
The coaching staff has gone out of its way to whisper to anyone who will listen that Peterson's average field goal conversion in 2005 was just 31 yards. The counter to that: You can only make the kicks, folks, they allow you to take.
Koenen's average miss through two games this year was 32.2 yards. Those are the kinds of kicks the Falcons hope Andersen will be able to convert for them. If he can, the failed Koenen experiment won't look nearly so bad come playoff time.
â€¢ For the first time ever, a person had to be a billionaire to qualify for a spot on the Forbes Magazine annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. In fact, one actually had to possess a net worth of $1.1 billion to snag a spot. Of course, the NFL, as usual was pretty well represented, with 11 owners or part-owners ranked among the richest people in the country. Most of them have diverse holdings, and for many the business of football is just an expensive pastime, but, hey, it apparently helps pay the bills.
The owners on the list: Paul Allen, Seattle (No. 5, $16.0 billion); Wayne Huizenga, Miami (No. 153-tie, $2.1 billion); Stan Kroenke, St. Louis (No. 153-tie, $2.1 billion); Malcolm Glazer, Tampa Bay (No. 160, $2.0 billion); Randy Lerner, Cleveland (No. 242-tie, $1.5 billion); Bob McNair, Houston (No. 242-tie, $1.5 billion); Arthur Blank, Atlanta (No. 297-tie, $1.3 billion); Jerry Jones, Dallas (No. 297-tie, $1.3 billion); Bob Kraft, New England (No. 297-tie, $1.3 billion); Steve Bisciotti, Baltimore (No. 354-tie, $1.1 billion); and Alex Spanos, San Diego (No. 354-tie, $1.1 billion).
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