Seahawks' bet on Blair Walsh over Stephen Hauschka proved costly

SEATTLE, Wash. -- After Blair Walsh missed a 48-yard field goal attempt in the final minute of the Seattle Seahawks' season-ending 26-24 loss to Arizona on Sunday, the Fox broadcast showed coach Pete Carroll, with his hands on his knees and a blank look on his face, mouth the word "unbelievable."

It was all too believable, actually.

That's how things went for Walsh during an awful finish to the season.

"First thing I thought of is that I felt so bad for him," Carroll said, "because he's trying to get out of this thing and he just didn't get to put it to rest today."

By "this thing," Carroll was referring Walsh's second-half funk. He made 12 of his first 13 attempts to begin the season but only nine of his final 16. He finished 29th among qualified kickers with a 72.4 percent field goal rate.

The Seahawks were hoping for much better when they signed Walsh last offseason before letting their longtime kicker, Stephen Hauschka, walk as a free agent. It was a curious decision to many who wondered why Seattle would move on from the most accurate kicker the franchise has ever had -- Hauschka's 87.3 percent field goal rate is fourth-best in NFL history -- in favor of Walsh, whose career had gotten badly off track leading to his release from the Vikings during the 2016 season.

But Hauschka was coming off a down season of his own. Though he made 33 of 37 field goals, he missed six extra point attempts and had repeated issues with the trajectory of his kicks, leading to several being blocked.

Re-signing him would have meant betting big on Hauschka having a bounce-back season. The Seahawks instead made a smaller bet on Walsh to do the same thing. His one-year deal included an $800,000 base salary with an extra $300,000 available in incentives and no guaranteed money. By comparison, Hauschka had a $2.7 million salary and a $3.525 million cap hit in his final season with Seattle. He signed a three-year, $8.885 million deal with Buffalo that included $4 million guaranteed.

The reasoning behind the switch was understandable. In retrospect, it's a decision the Seahawks surely would like to have back after Walsh struggled and Hauschka excelled in Buffalo, making 29 of 33 field goals (11th) and all of his PATs.

The Seahawks would probably be in the playoffs with a season like that from their kicker. Walsh missed all three of his attempts in a three-point loss to Washington in Week 9, which marked the beginning of his slide. He made three field goals but came up short on a 52-yard attempt that would have sent the Seahawks to overtime in their loss to Atlanta two weeks later.

The Falcons (10-6) finished with one more victory than Seattle (9-7) and made the playoffs as the NFC's No. 6 seed.

It should be noted that Walsh came up big in some narrow Seattle victories. He was a combined 7 for 7 in wins against the 49ers, Rams and Texans in the first half of the season. All of those games were decided by six points or fewer.

Walsh called it "up and down."

"I think I proved some stuff to myself with the extra point consistency, which I had trouble with in Minnesota," said Walsh, who made 37 of 38 PATs. "I had some big games and some moments where I came up short. So it's a tough year, it's a weird year, but I've enjoyed every minute that I've been here. The locker room is great, the guys are great and the head coach is great."

Walsh made a 49-yard field goal in the fourth quarter Sunday before pushing his final attempt wide right.

"Simply it just didn't go the direction that I wanted it to off my foot," he said. "I wanted to put it to the right third and let it come back in; that's kind of what my other one did. It didn't do what I wanted it to."

To Walsh's credit, he never ducked the media after his misses nor did he make any excuses for them, even though he easily could have after poor November weather in Seattle made for tricky kicking conditions in the Washington game.

Accountability is a good thing. More accuracy from Walsh would have been better.

The Seahawks had just been eliminated from playoff contention when he lined up for his final attempt on Sunday with 37 seconds left on the clock. A few minutes earlier, the Falcons had closed out a victory against Carolina in a game that Seattle needed them to lose in order to have any shot at making the postseason.

It still was a chance to end a disappointing season on a high note -- both for the Seahawks and for Walsh.

"There's a kick and if you make it, maybe you leave the rest of the stuff behind, and he didn't get to do that today," Carroll said. "He's a good competitor and it breaks my heart that he wasn't able to get that done."