Detroit Lions’ Dave Fipp: ‘We made the exact right call the whole way’ on kickers

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions have employed 10 kickers in the past 16 months, and their pronounced struggles in the kicking game have factored heavily into their three-game losing streak.

But Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp insisted Thursday the team has “made the exact right call the whole way” in its kicking situation since saying good-bye to Matt Prater as a free agent in the spring of 2021.

“It’s not been ideal, but I think we’re on the right track and we’ll keep working through it,” Fipp said. “I mean, people aren’t throwing out good players. And there’s a bunch of people looking for them right now. The later you get in the season, the harder it gets to find somebody and come in and play at a high level. The earlier it happens, the more choices you have.

“But I think overall from our decision-making process, all that, I don’t regret or second guess any of the moves we’ve made up to this point. In hindsight you’d do some things differently maybe, but we obviously don’t have the benefit of all the information.”

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The Lions chose not to re-sign Prater, one of the best long-distance kickers in the history of the NFL, when they embarked on a wholesale rebuild under Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell after the 2020 season.

They cycled through three potential replacements (Randy Bullock, Matthew Wright and Zane Gonzalez) in 2021 training camp, and used four more kickers — Austin Seibert, Riley Patterson, Ryan Santoso, Aldrick Rosas — in games.

This season, the Lions have employed six kickers between their practice squad and 53-man roster: Seibert, Patterson, Rosas, Dominik Eberle, Michael Badgley and Sam Ficken.

“I think saying that there’s been 10 kickers in here makes it sounds worse than it is,” Fipp said. “I mean, we’ve had a couple different kickers. We had really two primarily last year and hopefully we end up having two this year, primarily. And it settles down and we end up getting some productivity out of those guys.”

Seibert opened last season as the Lions’ primary kicker, making 10 of 12 field goals before suffering a groin injury that required season-ending surgery. Rosas and Santoso had short-lived stints as Seibert’s replacement, while Patterson made 13 of 14 field goals while handling kicking duties the final seven games of last season.

Seibert won a camp battle with Patterson for the job this summer, but his groin issues returned in September. He missed two field goals in a Week 3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, including a 54-yarder wide right with 1:14 to play that set up Minnesota’s game-winning touchdown drive, and was waived two weeks later, and Eberle was cut after missing two extra points and sending a kickoff out of bounds in his only game, a 48-45 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Lions signed Badgley to kick against the Patriots, but passed on a 50-yard attempt early in the game and chose to try and convert a fourth-and-9 from the New England 32 instead. Jared Goff fumbled, and the Patriots returned the turnover for a momentum-sparking touchdown.

After the game, Lions coach Dan Campbell said he did not want to use Badgley on that long a kick.

Fipp said Thursday that wind and the end zone the Lions were approaching factored into Campbell’s decision not to kick against the Patriots, and he indicated the Lions trust Badgley from long distance.

Badgley is 3 of 10 on kicks of 50-plus yards in his career.

“You worded (your question) as he can’t make a 50-yard kick and I don’t think that’s how we feel about that,” Fipp said. “But we do think that making a 50-yard kick in those conditions on that day, on that field, going that direction, at those uprights, was going to be a little bit more difficult task. So I would say (his range), I would say it depends on a lot of different things.”

Since the start of the 2021 season, Lions kickers are a combined 30 of 36 on field goal tries (83.3%) and 41 of 44 on extra points (93.2%). They are tied for last in field goal percentage this season, with a small sample size of four makes in six attempts, but finished in the middle of the NFL — tied for 14th — in 2021.

Prater, who signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals last spring, has made 36 of 43 field goals over the same span (83.7%), while missing two games this season with a hip injury.

Patterson is 9 of 10 on field goals this season for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and a perfect 13 of 13 on extra points.

Asked Thursday about the decision to not re-sign Prater, Fipp said “a lot of different things” went into that choice.

“That wasn’t my decision,” he said. “Ultimately that’s Brad and Dan and those guys and I trust them, and they’re trying to rebuild a roster so you’ve got to make a lot of hard decisions. But yeah, it’s easy to second-guess everything after the fact but I don’t second guess anything with that.”

That includes whether the Lions should have kept Patterson out of training. Fipp reiterated Thursday that Seibert had a better camp and a stronger leg and the Lions “thought we kind of had the answer to the question” of who will be their kicker long-term.

“I would say personally in my opinion, I would say we made the exact right call the whole way,” he said. “Would we like a different outcome? Oh yeah. We would like to hit on the next, whatever, all-pro kicker, but it doesn’t always turn out that way.”

Fipp said he is hopeful one of Badgley or Ficken will turn out to be that player, though he offered no clues Thursday about who will handle kicking duties in Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

“I think that’s probably ultimately the goal here is that you can keep on taking shots on guys and getting guys opportunity and hopefully you play well enough and then hopefully ultimately you find a guy you can stick with,” Fipp said. “I do think one of the biggest things in finding a guy, though, is at some point you have to have some patience. If you look at these guys, they all make kicks and miss kicks. They make 50-yard field goals, they miss 50-yard field goals and I think that what happens is when you win the game, it’s not as big of a deal when you miss a kick. When you lose the game, then obviously those kicks get magnified.

“So anytime you have a team with a record like ours you’re going to look back and second guess the kick and all that all the time. And I think that winning teams go through the same challenges, they just aren’t looked at exactly the same way. I have a saying in this league, the bottom line is you can’t win unless you win. Ultimately, we’ll be answering these questions on the kicker until we start winning enough games and then at that point we’ll probably all feel like the guy’s playing well enough and the truth is that he’s probably playing about the same either way.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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