Lining up to try a game-tying 53-yard field goal Sunday, some St. Louis Rams fans were beginning to doubt Greg Zuerlein.
It wasn’t without reason. After making his first 15 field goals as a professional, the rookie kicker made just four of his next nine leading into Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers. In the previous four games, Zuerlein had made only two of the four he attempted.
Adding to their concern was the fact that Zuerlein missed a 58-yard field goal earlier in the game. Missing a 58-yard field goal is justifiable for any kicker, but kicking – and making – from long distance has become Zuerlein’s calling card just 12 games into his career. A miss, even from 58 yards, was uncharacteristic for the sixth-round pick from Missouri Western State University.
This time, Zuerlein didn’t miss. This time, Zuerlein looked very much like the Greg Zuerlein Rams fans have come accustomed to seeing.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said. “It’s good to see him bounce back after the miss. And he did. I had complete confidence him.”
His second long-range strike of the day, the 54-yard kick with 26 seconds left to play in overtime, wasn’t just a confidence booster – it was a record breaker. Overshadowed by Zuerlein’s last-second heroics was the fact that, with his game-winning kick, Zuerlein set an NFL record with six made field goals of 53 yards or more.
That kick, his seventh field goal of over 50 yards, also broke the team record for 50-plus yard field goals previously held by Josh Brown. Brown was six-of-eight from long distance in 2008, his first year with the Rams.
This year Zuerlein has already attempted 11 field goals from long range, a number the notoriously big-footed Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski has matched only once in his career. His seven makes from 50 or longer lead the league, one ahead of Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Connor Barth. (Four of Barth’s have been from 52 yards or less.)
For Zuerlein, distance doesn’t seem to be an object.
“I think this entire team has all the confidence in the world in Greg,” quarterback Sam Bradford said after Sunday’s win. “We see him make (long field goals) everyday at practice. It’s just kind of routine for him.”
Standing at his locker Wednesday, Zuerlein deflected praise after being named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, the second time he’s won the award this season. Instead, Zuerlein focused on the result of his kick, saying the award was nice but it’s “better to get the win.”
One locker over, punter Johnny Hekker, Zuerlein’s roommate and, more importantly, the holder for Zuerlein’s kicks, was reminded that Zuerlein needs just one more field goal of 50-plus yards to tie the single-season NFL record. Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson hold the record at eight.
“I know it,” Hekker said. “We’ll get it.”
Zuerlein answered the bell Sunday. It’d be foolish to doubt him now.