The Buccaneers may have found a new kicker in Connor Barth during Sunday’s disappointing, last-minute 25-23 loss at Miami, but don’t tell him that.
Despite tying an NFL record with three field goals of over 50 yards or more, Barth is not resting on his laurels and does not think he has Tampa Bay’s kicking job locked up for the rest of the season. With the Buccaneers on their fourth kicker this year after Matt Bryant, Mike Nugent and Shane Andrus didn’t work out, head coach Raheem Morris hopes that Barth is the guy for 2009 and beyond.
“The field goals – obviously they have been harped on around here,” Morris said. “That was definitely a positive from yesterday. Just having the confidence to go out there and kick some of the 50-yarders felt pretty good.
“Right now I think he’s 80 percent. One more kick and he’s at 87 percent. That’s what you want every week. Just let him go out and kick and get an opportunity. He’s got an amazing opportunity and he went out and took advantage of it yesterday. Three 50-yarders? I’m not going to ask him to do it every week, but it’s nice to know that he can.”
Barth’s first field goal against Miami was a career-long 51-yarder and gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead. Hitting that field goal gave him the confidence to drill a 50-yarder in the second quarter and then establish a new career-high with a 54-yarder in the fourth quarter.
“When I hit that 51-yarder I was a little nervous because that was the longest ever in my career,” Barth said. “I haven’t kicked a 50-yarder since college, so that was great for my confidence. I didn’t have the greatest week of practice. I struggled a little bit this week. Coming back and hitting those three was huge for my confidence. Hopefully, we’ll build off it and get a ‘W’ next week.”
On Monday, Morris admitted that he pushed Barth, a second-year kicker from the University of North Carolina, to go out and drill the 54-yarder in the fourth quarter with Tampa Bay trailing 19-6.
“He went out there in pre-game and told me and told Rich Bisaccia where he was good from,” Morris said. “I went against the grain one time and I just wanted to ride the hot man. We kicked into the wind a 54-yarder. That was kind of a decision that was just pulled out. He hit it. Good job by him.”
Not only are his three field goals of 50 yards or more a team record, but Barth tied an NFL record, joining Houston’s Kris Brown (54, 54, 57 against Miami on 10/7/07), Arizona’s Neil Rackers (55, 55, 50 vs. Seattle on 10/24/04) and New Orleans’ Morten Andersen (51, 55, 55 vs. Atlanta on 12/10/05) for the honors. Barth’s 54-yard field goal is also tied for the fifth-longest in Buccaneers history.
Barth was familiar with Land Shark Stadium, having kicked with Miami in the preseason before being released on August 29, 2009. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent with Kansas City on August 30, 2008 and converted 10-of-12 field goals (83.3 percent) of his field goals and was 24-of-24 on extra points in 10 games with the Chiefs.
“I’ve kicked in there a bunch now,” Barth said. “You can see how the wind was perfect. It was 83 degrees and sunny and not much wind. It’s a great place to kick and it was the perfect elements yesterday.”
Barth was 1-for-2 in his debut for Tampa Bay against Green Bay, missing from 43 yards, but connecting on a 38-yard field goal. He’s now hit four straight field goals for the Buccaneers and is getting into a groove after Sunday’s historic day that could allow him to win this week’s NFC Special Teams Player of the Week Award.
“Just given the opportunity, it was awesome,” Barth said. “The coach having faith in me to even go out there and attempt those was awesome. Like I’ve said all along, I look at myself as a finisher. You have the offense and the defense that bust their butt and shed blood and sweat to get me down there. It’s my job to finish it off and put it through. It’s my job to go out and help this team win. It’s a great opportunity and I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunity.”
Barth has been on three teams in his young NFL career and despite making 83.3 percent of his kicks in Kansas City, the Chiefs let him go, which tells him that this is a “What have you done for me lately?” league – even if it’s a 54-yarder coming on the heels of four consecutive field goals.
“You just have to take it one game at a time,” Barth said. “I’ve been around the league now on a couple teams and you never know what’s going to happen. I take it week by week and one kick at a time. You are only as good as your last kick.”