Check out the action between the Saints and Panthers on Thursday Night Football.
It's not a good feeling to have second thoughts about sending your kicking unit onto the field for what should be routine kicks.
New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Paytonmay not yet have arrived at that point. But if his faith isn't shaken after what he has seen the last two games, he can't be far away from that state of mind because for the second straight game, the kicking game dearly cost the Saints.
Against Denver, a point-after attempt by Wil Lutzthat would have given the Saints a 24-23 lead with 82 seconds left, was blocked and returned by the Broncos for a two-point conversion, which gave Denver a 25-23 win.
Against Carolina on Thursday night, a kick again was the turning point for the Saints. This time, with 39 seconds left in the first half and the Saints trailing Carolina 13-3, New Orleans had driven from its 25-yard line to Carolina's 20 to set up Lutz for a 38-yard field-goal attempt, to pull the Saints to within a touchdown heading into halftime.
Instead of a successful conversion on what usually is a routine kick – or, at least, a missed kick – the attempt was blocked by defensive tackle Vernon Butlerand recovered by linebacker Luke Kuechly, who returned it 88 yards for a touchdown.
That score was wiped out by a penalty (an illegal block above the waist), but the Panthers capitalized on the very next play, when Cam Newtonthrew a 40-yard touchdown pass toTed Ginn Jr.to stretch the Panthers' lead to 20-3 with 16 seconds left in the half.
For the third time, potential points for the Saints in the kicking game were transformed into points for the opponent (the Giants returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in a 16-13 win over New Orleans). And for the third time, the result of the block clearly could be determined on the scoreboard.
To be fair, the Saints offense committed four turnovers against Denver, and two more against Carolina. But, also to be fair, the offense rallied and began to produce in the second half (17 points scored in the fourth quarter against Carolina) while the defense continued to post stops and create more opportunities for the offense.
The special teams, unfortunately, have a magnifying glass placed on them when a play goes awry because the opportunities are so limited. Those plays have to be substantially cleaner than the Saints have been this season, and especially the last two games. Because they haven't been, that unit supplied the turning point play in consecutive losses.