EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Ryan Longwell has kicked into the open South end of Lambeau Field many times over the course of his 15 NFL seasons.
Perhaps no one understands how Mother Nature can affect those kicks more than Longwell, who's played 78 regular season games in the historic stadium between his nine seasons as a member of the Green Bay Packers and six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Longwell knew what it would take to convert his 52-yard field goal on Monday night. After watching a 47-yarder barely sneak through and then get nullified by a penalty, Longwell knew he needed everything on his second chance.
"I swung hard at it," Longwell said of the missed 52-yarder. "But Lambeau's a place when it's that cold wind coming out of that direction, which is the usually the direction at that stadium, you know you can get a gust that will kill the ball. It got it halfway there. It started out right where we were aiming, but we knew after the 47-yarder we had to hit it perfect and get lucky. We did the first part, but we didn't get lucky."
Longwell is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, but has missed field goals in four of his last five games. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer spent part of the bye week studying film from the entire year. He noticed a couple of minor mechanical changes the field goal group needed and Longwell, holder Chris Kluwe and snapper Cullen Loeffler went to work on the adjustments.
Priefer didn't want to get into specifics, but felt they had cleaned up the issues.
"He had more confidence, which obviously for a kicker is huge," Priefer said of Longwell. "And he just went back to what's made him successful in the past. All I did was kind of ask the right questions and then they figured it out from there. That's what those guys do, those three, the snapper, holder and kicker.
"As you know they've been together for so long, they know what's made them successful. I think we've got it figured out.
Longwell doesn't believe Monday's miss was a reoccurrence of the troubles from before the bye week. On a cold, windy night at Lambeau Field he felt he was back to normal, despite the results.
From 47 yards Longwell's first attempt Monday night was good, just sneaking over the crossbar.
When Fred Evans was called for a false start pushing the Vikings back five yards, Priefer wasn't sure if Minnesota should tempt fate and have Longwell try again. Against the wind on Monday night at Lambeau Field, 52 yards might have been stretching Longwell's range.
In a similar situation twice, Green Bay elected to go for short fourth-down conversions instead of kicking a field goal. The Vikings decided they would need any potential points against the undefeated Packers though.
"He had made the 47-yarder, barely made it," Priefer said. "I told the head coach I thought about wanting to punt and he did too. He just figured, hey we need the points there. Let's give it a shot. It was unfortunate that we had that penalty. He hit the 47-yarder pretty good, but the 52-yarder he probably got it up in the air a little bit too much"
Missing the 52-yarder kept Longwell from tying NFL-record 11 consecutive field goals of 50 yards or longer. Longwell ended one short of Tony Zendejas' mark. Longwell entered this season second all-time in field-goal percentage for kickers with over 300 attempts. Longwell had made 83.5 percent of his kicks, trailing only Matt Stover's 83.7 percent for first place.
With four misses, Longwell sits at 76.4 percent this season, which would be just the second time in his career he's been under 80 percent. His worst season was a 64.5 percent mark in 2001 while still kicking outdoors as a member of the Packers.
Since coming to the Vikings he's never missed more than five field goals over an entire season and has just a single miss each of the past two years. With his mechanical problem solved, Longwell doesn't feel he will have to worry about missing too many more kicks this season.
"The three before the bye week were fixable and we fixed it during the bye week," Longwell said. "We hit the ball great in Green Bay. We just got nothing to show for it. On one hand you're excited about hitting the ball the way you're expecting. On the other hand, it's one of those years where you've just got to go into each kick and try to make it and know you're not going to be where you were last year. But that doesn't mean you can't finish out the season strong."
Priefer, who's in his first season as Minnesota's special teams coordinator, knows a veteran like Longwell is able to deal with any potential issues quicker because of his experience. The chemistry between Longwell, Kluwe and Loeffler only adds to the consistency.
"With younger kids it takes a little bit longer and then if it doesn't work right off the bat, kickers will have a little bit of doubt," Priefer said. "I've had that experience where you try to make corrections and they'll have a little twinge of doubt in their mind if it doesn't work right away. But it's a process. For Ryan it's not a process anymore. He just knows what he needs to fix and he's going to go out and fix it."