For N.F.L. Kickers, Near Perfect Isn’t Close Enough

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Kicker Aldrick Rosas was one of three Giants who made the Pro Bowl last year; the star running back Saquon Barkley and safety Landon Collins were the others. Rosas, in just his second year in the N.F.L., was nearly perfect in 2018, converting 32 of 33 field-goal attempts and missing only one of 32 extra-point attempts.

It’s now Rosas’s job to improve on that, and he knows it. But is that realistic?

“Yes,” Rosas, 24, said after the Giants training camp practice Monday. “It has to be.”

But the pressure that accompanies the daunting pursuit of perfection can cause even veteran kickers to throw up their hands and metaphorically sprint from a football stadium, so maddeningly exasperated that they vow to never again return to the sport.

Rosas watched from the sideline as that actually happened. Before the kickoff of last week’s Giants-Jets preseason game, Rosas finally got to meet one of his kicking heroes: Chandler Catanzaro, a former star at Clemson and five-year N.F.L. veteran. Once the game began, Rosas looked on as Catanzaro missed two of three extra-point tries for the Jets. The next day, Catanzaro, 28, announced his retirement. He would forfeit his $2.3 million salary and be forced to return a $500,000 signing bonus to the Jets.

“That really came out of left field,” Rosas said Monday of Catanzaro’s retirement. “Really surprised me. I’ve been following him his whole career. I thought he was a great kicker.”

But Catanzaro’s troubles are another episode in a confounding string of events involving N.F.L. kickers. On one flabbergasting September Sunday afternoon last season, the kickers for Minnesota and Cleveland combined to miss five field goals and two extra points, with the vast majority of those wayward kicks occurring as the game’s outcome hung in the balance. Both kickers were released the next day.

By the playoffs, pivotal misses continued to haunt the kicking cohort. In a January wild-card playoff game, Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey missed a potential game-winning, 43-yard field goal when his attempt deflected off an upright and the crossbar. Parkey was cut not long afterward, but the Bears kicking woes have not been assuaged. They have since tried out three unproven kickers and still have not arrived on a new starter at the position.

Rosas offered no theories on Catanzaro’s decision-making or what might have been going through his mind, other than this: It’s a peculiar, lonely job.

“We spend an awful lot of time alone and by ourselves, not like the other players on a football team, and you can’t really tell what we’re thinking,” Rosas said with a smile. “People wonder about us that way.

“I actually kind of like it. There’s all that down time, but it’s about keeping a clear mind. It’s all a mental game for us. You have to stay anxious-free, which is something you can learn to develop over time.”

But you can never be perfect, even if the kickers themselves, and football fans, expect it.

“No, failure still happens,” Rosas said. “There’s always that human factor. You get yourself ready in every way, but you never really know what is going to happen, that’s the thing. That’s the reality.”

Nonetheless, as he enters his first season as a recognized Pro Bowler, Rosas looks to improve on the one missed field goal and one missed extra-point attempt that blemished his record a year ago. He has already spent dozens of hours meticulously scrutinizing the film of every kick from last season.

“Because even when the ball goes through the uprights, as kickers we look at the film afterward and we know that everything was not perfect,” he said. “We see the trajectory of the ball and lots of little mechanical things that aren’t slightly off that no one else really notices. The play happens so fast — just 1.2 seconds — that people don’t see all the little details. But I do on film and there are things that I can improve on.”

One of Rosas’s kicking brethren, someone he looked up to, just had a very bad day, so bad it made him walk away from the game and a craft he had toiled to master for years. On his Instagram feed, Catanzaro posted: “When I finished my career at Clemson, playing in the N.F.L. was just a dream. After five years in the league, it’s time to move on. I can’t say I ever thought I would have been a kicker, but I’m thankful that kicking chose me.”

A few days later, standing alongside a Giants practice field, Rosas shook his head.

“I guess everyone is different and I don’t know him personally,” he said of Catanzaro. “Everyone takes their own approach. I try to go out there saying: ‘Don’t think. Just don’t think.’ And it usually turns out just fine.

“I think it’s a great job.”