Rookies Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and, lately, Kirk Cousins, have dominated the headlines for their contributions to the Redskins’ improbable late-season playoff push.
Which is just fine with another first-year player, kicker Kai Forbath, who is quietly closing in on an NFL record.
If Forbath makes his next two field goals, the 25-year-old midseason signee will equal Garrett Hartley’s record for consecutive field goals to start a career. Hartley made 16 in a row spanning the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Forbath is a perfect 14 for 14 in eight games, and it could be argued that his most recent field goal – a 34-yarder in overtime against the Ravens last Sunday – was the most important kick in Washington in years.
“Every kicker loves the opportunity to kick the winner,” Forbath said. “That’s why we do this. I’m just thankful that we made it.”
Asked about the record, he answered with the same calm and cool he displays when holder Sav Rocca places the ball on the turf, spins the laces and the game is on the line.
“I’m just trying to stay confident and not get ahead of myself,” Forbath said, shrugging. “I’m going into this week as if I’m 0 for 0, like I do every week.”
“I’ve heard briefly” about the record, he continued, adding that he doesn’t mind discussing the topic because he’s not superstitious. “But I don’t want to think too much about that. Like I said, I’m focused on each week and I’m just trying to go out and make all of my kicks.”
Since replacing Billy Cundiff in October, Forbath has not only shown accuracy but also the ability to make the tough kicks with ease. Against the Ravens, he connected from 48 and 49 yards before booting the winner. For the season, the former UCLA standout has made all eight of his attempts from 40-49 yards.
Coach Mike Shanahan said this week that he wouldn’t hesitate to send out the field goal unit for attempts from 50 or more yards out.
“I’ve watched him in practice kick 60-yard field goals,” Shanahan said. “I think he feels very comfortable right around that 50-yard area. Could he make it deeper? Yeah, I think he could. Hopefully you don’t have to push him that far [out] because you give the other team such great field position unless it’s at the end of the hard or the game.”
Shanahan also acknowledged that having a confident and capable kicker affects the play calling.
“If it’s fourth-and-one –we’ve gone for it a number of times in that 35- to 40-yard range – if your field goal kicker has just missed two in a row or three in a row, your mindset is to probably take a chance and go for it,” Shanahan said. But when “you’ve got a guy who has been very consistent, like we did against Baltimore, you give him a few chances to make it – and he took advantage of both of them.”
Forbath’s brief career has been all about maximizing opportunities. When the Santa Monica, Calif.-native landed in Tampa Bay’s training camp this summer, he knew it would be tough to beat out standout veteran Connor Barth. And he didn’t. But Forbath went 5 for 5 of field goals in the preseason, including a 43-yarder against the Redskins.
About two months later, he got a call from Redskins Park.
“I have confidence in myself,” Forbath said when asked if he’s surprised by his early success. “I’m going to go out there and trust my training. I worked hard for this chance and I want to try and take advantage of it.”
While Forbath has been perfect on field goals, he continues to work on improving the distance and hang time of his kickoffs. Of his last 11 kickoffs, in fact, nine were returned, one was a touchback and another was angled out of bounds, drawing a penalty.
“His leg is a little bit stronger than what people think right now,” Shanahan said, defending his kicker.
One thing that doesn’t need any defense, though, is Forbath’s performance in scoring situations, particularly in the clutch.
“It’s an awesome feeling knowing that all that hard work is paying off,” Forbath said.