With the Kansas City Chiefs now focused on Super Bowl LVII — which takes place on February 12 — Week 1 of the season seems like a lifetime ago. The Chiefs opened their 2022 campaign in style, giving their fans plenty to cheer about in a 44-21 rout of the Arizona Cardinals.
One blemish on the day, however, was when plackicker Harrison Butker lost his footing on a kickoff, injuring his ankle. Although he finished the game, he would miss the next four matchups. Journeymen kickers Matt Ammendola and Matthew Wright for two games each.
While Butker was good for a franchise-record 62-yard field goal in Week 6 — his first game back from the injury — he also missed a 51-yard attempt. He struggled with his accuracy in many of the remaining contests, ending the regular season with six missed field goals and three missed extra-point attempts.
Speaking before practice on Friday, Butker opened up about how difficult the 2022 campaign has been for him.
“When we lost to the Bengals last year,” he recalled of 2021’s season-ending defeat, “we lost on a Sunday — but I was kicking that Thursday. I really attacked the offseason. I wanted to just work on my technique and hone it in. I felt like I had a great foundation going into the season.
“And then when you do have an injury — kind of a fluke thing where the turf just went out from under my plant leg — you kind of start from square one again. I had to make some adjustments technique-wise — because you’re not going to feel the same.”
It may have taken most of a season, but Butker’s adjustments finally appear to have paid off. In the postseason, he has been a perfect five-for-five on both field goals and extra points.
“I’ve made some small changes, and I feel like I’ve really ironed those out,” he said of the problems he’d been facing. “I’ve been in a good rhythm the past couple of games. You have to be able to face adversity and make adjustments. That was the first time in my career where I’ve really had to do that — because I do pride myself on having everything figured out going into training camp. Then I’m kind of on autopilot.”
Butker also spoke about some rarely considered downsides of being injured.
“You’re not traveling with the team for away games,” he revealed. “There [are] some days when you are looking outside at practice. You’re seeing whoever it is kicking — one of ‘the Matts’ — and it hurts. You’re like, ‘Man, I wish I could go out there and kick.’
“I love to kick — I love doing that — and I [couldn’t]. So I tried not to think about when I [could] come back, when my ankle [would] be better — [or] if it will back to where it was before the injury.”
While Chiefs fans showed signs of frustration that everything didn’t just return to normal once Butker returned to the lineup, he felt the same way.
“I started off with a 62-yard field goal,” he recalled. “I was thinking, ‘Man, I’m back. I’m going to finish this year out and do a great job.’
“Then I had some hiccups in there just trying to figure out the ankle. I think I just didn’t have the endurance, maybe — the mobility to handle [the routine]: week of practice, game, week of practice, game — all of that.
“The temptation for me was just to be upset [and] kind of quit the process — [to] throw my hands up like I can’t do anything.
“But I just kept the faith. It would have been so easy to listen to the noise — to keep my head down — and be depressed in my feelings about not being the type of kicker that I know I can be.”
The Chiefs are better for Butker’s perseverance. A year later — and again facing the Bengals — his 45-yard kick with only three seconds remaining gave this season’s AFC Championship a happier ending.
“It was a great feeling for that ball to go through,” he admitted. “Obviously, my head’s down and I’m grinding every day now to get ready for the Super Bowl.”
The league championship will be played at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona — the same field where Butker injured his ankle 20 weeks ago. But having adjusted his kickoffs to minimize the risk of re-injury, he is not concerned about the field conditions.
“I think the field will definitely be great,” he predicted. “Also: when I injured my ankle, I was doing an 11-yard approach on kickoffs. So you have a lot more momentum. Now I’m doing a five-yard approach.
“I feel like doing that approach, I can handle a slippery surface. The more momentum you have going to the ball, the better the turf has to be — or else you will potentially slip. I feel better doing this five-yard approach; it’s a lot safer.”
His coach is also unconcerned about the turf.
“For the Super Bowl, they’re going to have a beautiful field,” Chiefs assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Dave Toub maintained on Friday. “We know that. That field that we played on — they had practice, they had preseason games, there were some high school games on it before we played on it. There [were] a lot of things going on before we played.
“That’s not going to be the case now. We know the field is going to be pristine for us.”