After 39 field goals, Anderson's first miss costs Vikings

By HAL BOCK AP Sports Writer Published:

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The distance was the same for the two placekickers with almost the same last name. The result was not. Gary Anderson missed a 38-yard field goal that almost certainly would have sent the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl. Then Morton Andersen made one from the same distance and nearly the same spot on the field, delivering the NFC championship to the Atlanta Falcons. Sometimes football is tough to explain. Both kickers have been in the NFL for 17 seasons, each experiencing the ups and downs that come with a job that is less a science than it is an art. Kickers are a special breed, on the field only briefly but usually in vital situations. There is no sure thing with a kicker. There are instead, variables. So many things can go wrong. And yet, nothing had gone wrong this season for Minnesota's Anderson. He became the first kicker in history to have a perfect regular season _ 35-for-35 on field goals, 59-for-59 on extra points. Add the playoffs and the numbers stretch to 39 straight field goals and 67 consecutive extra points. His 420 career field goals are an NFL record. There had been two more field goals last week against Phoenix and two on Sunday against Atlanta, extending a remarkable streak of 121 straight successful kicks since his last miss, a field goal try on Dec. 15, 1997 when he was with San Francisco. So when he lined up for one more field goal in the fourth quarter Sunday, it seemed almost automatic. He had kicked 16 this season longer than 38 yards, so the distance was certainly in his range, Everything seemed right. And then, inexplicably, it went wrong. For the first time all season, Anderson missed a kick. "There are no words to describe how I feel," he said after he hooked one barely wide left and then watched the other Andersen connect from the same distance for Atlanta's winning points in a 30-27 overtime victory. If Minnesota's Anderson had made his 38-yarder, Atlanta's Andersen wouldn't have had a chance for his 38-yarder. The fourth-quarter miss and the overtime hit came from virtually the same spot on the field. This drama began with the Vikings leading 27-20 and stopping what seemed to be Atlanta's last gasp in the fourth quarter. With under five minutes to play, Minnesota could run out the clock and head for Miami. They needed no more points but with the Falcons giving up yards, it seemed the Vikings would add to their lead. With just over two minutes to play, Anderson lined up for what seemed likely to be the clinching field goal. The sequence leading up to the kick went according to plan. There was nothing wrong with Mike Morris' snap, nothing wrong with Mitch Berger's hold. Anderson just hooked the kick barely around the left upright. "Six inches one way or another makes a difference," he said. Those inches went the wrong way for the first time all season for the 39-year-old Anderson. "That is part of field goal kicking," he said. "You have to be a man about it. When you're a field goal kicker, that is your job _ to line up and fire those field goals. Unfortunately, that one didn't go through. Most of them have, which makes it more bitterly disappointing." "Gary did was he always did," coach Dennis Green said. "He tried to help our team win." "I had a good stride," Anderson said. "I didn't see it because a couple of guys were on top of me after I kicked." For a moment, it seemed the madcap Metrodome crowd did not believe the miss. The fans were cheering because, after all, an Anderson field goal was an automatic three points. Not this time. "Maybe in some respects that makes it more disappointing," Anderson said. "With such tremendous expectations, it makes it 10 times more disappointing." The kick didn't miss by much, but it missed. Both officials stationed under the goal posts waved it wide. Suddenly, Atlanta had a life. The Falcons were not about to blow it, either. Chris Chandler took them down the field for the tying TD with less than a minute to play. So the championship game went into overtime and on their second possession, Atlanta moved downfield, heading in the same direction the Vikings were going in during the fourth quarter. When the Falcons got close enough, coach Dan Reeves turned the game over to his Andersen and the kicker lined up and nailed the winning field goal. The distance was 38 yards _ a distance the other Anderson will never forget.

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