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Could Hartley Be On His Way Out?

After yesterday’s heart-wrenching loss in overtime to division rival, the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints and their fans are left scratching their heads wondering what has happened to the hero of the NFC Championship Game and later Superbowl XLIV. Having missed two chip-shots against Minnesota in the season opener and the all-critical one which cost the team a victory against Atlanta, Garrett Hartley could very well be the next casualty of Sean Payton’s swift intolerance for errors.

According to league sources, the Saints have scheduled a workout with their former kicker, John Carney and reached out to veteran kicker, Matt Stover. Carney, who is certainly no stranger to adversity when it comes to his kicking game, is supposed to work out for the team on tomorrow. However, it’s still unclear if whether such an invitation has or will be extended to Stover.

All of this has me uneasy. I can remember back in 2008 when a great deal of time and energy was spent on kickers. When the dust settled, John Carney had resumed his duties in New Orleans for the 2009 season. Well, we all remember how well that went–so we ended up with the rookie, Hartley starting at the position and Carney staying on as a consultant. Although Carney’s numbers weren’t terrible, there were several of his kicks that only prayer could have gotten through the uprights. Needless to say, he was far less than perfect.

Now we’re talking about a 46-year-old player (Carney) who has spent 22 years kicking in the NFL for various teams. The last time we saw him, his performance was sub-par as it was. And unless he has been kicking in some playground league for the last eleven months or so, chances are he hasn’t attempted a kick since being benched by the Saints last year. So I ask you, what in the world can we hope to see from him now? This is one of those situations that can go from bad to worse really quick.

Sure, Hartley’s kick could have won the game for the Saints. But so would continuing with the drive and possibly getting into the endzone. It was first-down for crying out loud! And I’ve heard all the arguments about how a turnover could have happened and given the ball back to the Falcons. Well, they got it back anyway when Hartley missed. The point is, the kid’s kicking has been suspect for quite awhile; everybody just seemed to forget that when he became the hero of the NFCCG and Superbowl XLIV. But he certainly hasn’t been very accurate this season, not even during PATs. I’ve found myself holding my breath whenever he goes back to kick.   You just never know with him.

But is bringing back an aged, probably-rusty Carney really the answer?  Seems to me the best solution would be for the rest of the offense to step up its game and start back to getting into the endzone so they don’t have to rely on Hartley’s foot.  The fact is, there are no quality kickers out there who are available, so it may come down to making do with what we’ve got.   Perhaps the Saints are just exploring their options or maybe they’re trying to light a fire under Hartley.

 Coach Payton said on Monday,  “The thing you always have to be careful of is you turn around the day after and make decisions that maybe are the ones that aren’t well thought out.   We’ll meet on it. We’ll visit.  You know how we feel about him (Hartley). He’s a guy that has come up big for us. And there were more wide lefts yesterday than just the kicker. There were other mistakes made in that game that maybe led it to overtime.”

Well, Coach–all of that might be true.  Yet some might even blame the loss on the decision to attempt the kick on first-down rather than try to get in the endzone, especially when you know your kicker’s efforts have been off lately.  But whatever the case may be, let’s all hope that the final decision is well thought out so that we don’t end up being nothing more than a footnote in a would-be success story.

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