Arriving at his locker while many of his offensive and defensive teammates were finishing film review from Sunday’s game in San Diego, Succop entered an empty locker room environment - empty except for 20-some media members waiting for the first player to arrive.
Succop drew lucky No. 1.
Before Succop was able remove the stool from his locker, a herd of cameras, recorders and microphones were already approaching. The third year kicker, still standing, turned and smiled.
“How’s everybody doing today?” Succop asked politely with his Southern accent.
And then it was time for the questions to turn towards the kicker. Succop pushed a 38-yard field goal wide right less than 24 hours prior in a 20-17 loss at Qualcomm Stadium. It was Succop’s third miss in as many games.
Succop kicked his way into the NFL record book only two seasons ago. Selected dead last as “Mr. Irrelevant” in the 2009 NFL Draft, Succop drilled 86.21% of his field goal attempts to tie the highest make percentage by a rookie kicker since the AFL-NFL merger. His 25 makes also established a Chiefs rookie record, passing Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud’s mark of 21 FGs made in 1967.
In 2009, Succop was one of the few consistent pieces on an otherwise inconsistent 4-12 team. He scored 12 of the Chiefs 14 points in Todd Haley’s first win as an NFL head coach against the Washington Redskins and booted an overtime winner to upset the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium.
Last season, Succop was exactly what a kicker wants to be – an afterthought.
He quietly went about his business kicking field goals with consistency. Outside of a wild overtime finish vs. Buffalo, Succop rarely made a ripple. He made the gimme kicks, missed some long ones and hammered through enough mid-range attempts that no one questioned his accuracy.
This year, things are different. The team is 0-3 and Succop is just 2-of-5 with all three misses coming under 50 yards. His latest miss magnified by another loss.
“It was obviously frustrating what happened,” Succop said. “All I can do is continue to keep working hard, working on things in practice and I’m certainly confident and looking forward to getting out there this week and making all the kicks. Obviously that’s what this team needs.”
Succop’s three misses this season have come from 49, 44 and 38 yards. He’d missed just two career kicks from less than 40 yards prior to this season. One of those misses came under severe kicking conditions against Buffalo last season.
That’s the most frustrating and surprising aspect surrounding Succop’s misses this season. The missed kicks are distances he’s normally automatic from.
Prior to 2011, Succop had drilled 42-of-45 attempts (93.3%) under 50 yards.
“I think it’s one of those things where we don’t always understand why things happen,” said Succop. “I’ve been hitting the ball really well (in practice) and now I just have to take that into games.
“I’m confident that I’m going to put these kicks through and am just staying focused on putting a good stroke on it and knocking it through.”
Succop is currently going through a stretch most every successful kicker has faced at some point in their career. Confidence is a critical element in the kicking game and the Chiefs know they must work with their young kicker to keep that sensitive balance in check.
Immediately after Sunday’s loss in San Diego, head coach Todd Haley publicly supported his struggling kicker. Haley called Succop an “integral” part of the Chiefs team.
“That certainly means a lot to me that Coach would be there for me,” Succop said. “Now I just have to go out there and get it done and prove him right.”
Before Succop, the Chiefs had struggled to find a consistent kicker since trading Lawrence Tynes to the N.Y. Giants in 2007 (the seventh-round pick obtained in the trade was used on TE Michael Merritt, who never played a game for Kansas City).
Justin Medlock was drafted in the fifth round (2007), but lasted only one game before the Chiefs cut bait. Kansas City then went through names like Dave Rayner, John Carney, Connor Barth and Nick Novak before finally finding the type of consistency needed for a long-term solution.
Novak kicked for San Diego on Sunday after being out of football for the past two seasons. Pro Bowler Billy Cundiff was another name that came through Kansas City, but he couldn’t even make it out of OTAs with the Chiefs in 2008. Cundiff didn’t kick for anyone that season.
“You’ve obviously seen guys go through tough situations and the thing that is positive is a lot of guys turn it around and that’s what I am going to continue to work hard to do,” Succop said. “Let’s make the next one and then every time my number gets called after that, let’s put it through.
“You can certainly learn from what some guys have been through and take it from there.”