During his career with the New Orleans Saints, a career that lasted 6 years, John Carney was the model of consistency. He always came prepared and fit, and won over the hearts of many Saints fans. Now a New York Giant, Carney became this past season at 44 years of age the oldest Pro Bowler in NFL history. Carney will turn 45 in April, and he sports a 82.6% career success rate on field goal tries over 20 seasons. Even more impressive is the fact that he connected 35 out of 38 field goals last year, for a success rate of 92.1%. No wonder this guy keeps hanging around; no one is more accurate and he is a difference maker in a league where so many games come down to the final 2 minutes.
When the Saints let Carney go, the reasoning seemed sound enough. Carney, while incredibly accurate, had clearly lost power in his leg necessary for being effective on kickoffs. As a result, the Saints in 2006 spent 2 roster spots on kickers so that a stronger legged Billy Cundiff could handle kickoff duties. The luxury the Saints had prior to 2006 was that Mitch Berger, the punter, could also serve as a decent kickoff man. With Berger no longer on the team and a new rookie punter in Steve Weatherford who wasn't as versatile, Carney's lack of power became an issue. Sean Payton decided that he wanted a kicker that could handle both chores so that he didn't have to sacrifice the extra roster spot. The Saints decided during the 2007 offseason to trade for Olindo Mare who would succeed Carney as the new Saints kicker. While Mare's leg strength was every bit as impressive as advertized, that leg strength was at the cost of accuracy on field goals. Mare made 10 of 17 kicks for the Saints before he was injured and replaced by a handsome fella named Martin Grammatica. Grammatica had a strong season after replacing Mare, converting on all 5 tries. The following season, however, Grammatica had significant struggles -- especially during crucial situations. He went 6 of 10, including two heart breaking misses that cost the Saints 2 early season losses. Grammatica was then replaced by rookie Taylor Mehlhaff, who went 3 for 4 but missed an extra point, and was so bad in practice that he completely lost the faith of the coaching staff early on.
And this brings us to Garrett Hartley. Granted, 13 kicks is a small sample size and he could follow in the footsteps of Grammatica, who followed up a perfect half season with a disastrous start to the following one. But Hartley connected on all 13 kicks he attempted in 2008 and showed a solid ability on kickoffs. There is lots of promise in this young kicker, who seems very reliable and hopefully can stick around longer than his 3 predecessors.
All in all, Carney converted on 83.3% of his kicks while in New Orleans (150 out of 180) and has converted on 90.4% of his kicks in the 3 years since he has left. By comparison, the Saints 4 kickers since Carney have combined to make 75.5% of their kicks. If you take Garrett Hartley's perfect 13 kicks out of the equation, the Mare/Grammatica/Mehlhaff era combined for a woeful 66.7 conversion percentage. So they basically missed 1 in every 3 kicks. Yikes.
Hartley's addition, for the time being, has given me a slightly elevated blood pressure during field goal attempts... but I'll take that any day over the cardiac arrest threat the past 3 kickers gave me. Here's to hoping Hartley can build on his fabulous start and finally help us move on from the glory days of John Carney.