Through his first three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, placekicker Harrison Butker was money, connecting on 89.7% of his field-goal attempts and 95.2% of his extra-point tries. But despite connecting on 92.6% of his field goals in 2020 — a personal best — he was only 88.9% on extra points.
After kicking the game-winning overtime field goal against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2, Butker missed five extra points over the next seven games — just 82.1% over that stretch.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday after the team’s training camp practice at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Butker admitted that the high of that Chargers victory played a role in the bad streak that followed.
“I definitely thought it stuck with me a little too long,” said Butker. “Even a great game like that, you want to move on pretty fast, focus on the next game and forget about it.”
Butker went on to say he’d learned something from NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“I think it was Giannis that had a quote,” he recalled, “just talking about, ‘If you perform at the best of your ability and you do all these great things, your can almost guarantee your next practice is going to be awful.’ So it’s just trying to stay humble, recognize that you’re a human, and you’re going to be able to make mistakes.”
As the bad streak continued, Butker said he made other mistakes, too.
“I think I was probably listening too much to what other people thought about me — and I knew what I needed to correct; I knew what I needed to do. I just blocked out all the distractions and worked my butt off.”
At the time, Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said that fans just needed to be patient with Butker — that he would work through it. And eventually, he did — hitting every one of his kicks through the final seven games of the season.
Butker said the ability to live only in the moment matters a lot.
“It’s huge,” he said. “Some kickers can’t bounce back. Some kickers kind of keep missing — and finally, they’re able to bounce back — but that’s kind of what separates kickers: in a fix, are they able to move on? Or does it kind of stay in the back of their head and kind of go with them their entire career? You have to have a short memory as a kicker. Move on, trust your swing [and] prepare as best you can. Whatever happens, it happens. You’ve got to accept it and move on.”
But troubles returned in the Divisional Round game against the Cleveland Browns. On two missed kicks, rookie holder Tommy Townsend rotated the ball in a different direction than Butker expected. Toub called it an “operational glitch” that they corrected before the AFC championship — in which Butker was once again perfect.
The placekicker said that Townsend has returned for his second season in a much better place.
“I think he’s definitely developed a lot from last year to this year; he’s matured a lot,” noted Butker. “That’s kind of what happens the longer you’re in the league: you mature. And I think mentally, you get stronger. Every season, we’re able to get some good time together. He really trusts his ability to punt, hold — whatever else he needs to do.”
But Butker also said that he is taking a larger share of the responsibility in their partnership.
“I think I’ve also taken more ownership — to basically say, ‘If the ball’s on the ground, I’ve got to make it.’ At the end of the day, it’s on me — whether it’s a make or miss. I’ve taken more ownership on that — and I think it’s made me a lot better placekicker.”
If all of that makes it sound like placekicking is more of a mental challenge than a physical one, that’s OK. Butker would agree with you.
“So much of kicking is mindset,” he reminded his listeners. “I always say that there’s a lot of kickers sitting on the couch that are better ball-strikers than me — that are physically better kickers. But for whatever reason, mentally, they weren’t able to put it together. So you could have a guy who’s not in the league come out here and kick on the sticks against me and probably do a pretty good job — but if you’re not able to put it together during those big-pressure moments, then you’re probably not going to make it at the highest level: playing in the NFL.”
Has Butker finally moved on from the 2020 season? It certainly seems so. He’s once again looked excellent in camp. Just before meeting with the press, he’d gone seven for eight on the day — missing only on an attempt of nearly 60 yards.
With any luck, we won’t have to ask the question again.