After making several of the most important kicks in New Orleans Saints history, Garrett Hartley inspired confidence among his teammates and coaches.
After missing eight of his 30 attempts this season, the kicker perhaps lost confidence in himself, so much so that Tuesday, Hartley was waived, two days after having a 36-yard attempt blocked and missing wide left on a 26-yarder in the Saints’ 27-16 loss to St. Louis.
“It was real difficult,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. “(Hartley) is going to play in this league for quite a long time and have success. He’s got great leg talent. We just felt like it was the one thing that is a little bit more challenging.
“Because if we’re not getting the right effort we can look closely at rest, we can look closely at what we’re doing in these drills. If we’re not getting the right scheme, we can change that. If we’re not getting the right results in regards to takeaways, we can make sure that that’s emphasized.
“It’s a little bit more nebulous when it comes to the confidence of a kicker. I think he had a great week of practice last week and yet, it didn’t manifest itself in the game.”
Thus, five days before playing Carolina, in a game in which the Saints (10-4) could claim the NFC South Division championship and No. 2 playoff seed with the victory, New Orleans will enter Bank of America Stadium with a new kicker,
Graham, who hasn't played in a game this season, played last season in Houston. He made 31 of 38 field goals (81.6 percent) during the regular season and all six field goal attempts in the playoffs, including a career-best 55-yarder.
“I don’t think you could really ask to be in a different situation,” Graham said of joining the Saints. “I think everyone wants to be a part of something that matters so when you come in and you’re put in this position, I think it’s the best place you can be in. Because you want to come in, you want to be able to make a difference and you want to matter, especially when there’s something on the line.”
There’s much on the line in New Orleans, and Graham replaces a kicker who performed well under duress several times.
Hartley made his first 16 field-goal attempts as a Saint, then an NFL record for consecutive field goals to start a career. Entering the season he’d made 60 of 71 kicks (84.5 percent) during the regular season and all eight attempts in the postseason.
In the playoffs, he kicked a 40-yard, game-winning field goal in overtime in New Orleans’ 31-28 victory over Minnesota in the 2009 NFC championship game. And he was money from 46, 44 and 47 yards in the Super Bowl XLIV victory over Indianapolis, making him the first in Super Bowl history to kick three field goals of 40 or more yards.
But he’d missed six of his last 14 attempts, over seven games. Several kickers, including Graham, were brought in for a workout in November. Graham, the best among them, received the job when Hartley was waived.
“I think (Hartley’s) a tough guy who will respond,” Payton said. “I think he’s very resilient and I think that’s fairly common for the position. I think he responded very well earlier in the year when he just had a handful of misses. You spend a lot of time giving it thought and ultimately, you go with your gut.”
“Your heart hurts for him with some of the struggles that we’ve had this year, that he’s had this year, just kind of the ups and downs,” quarterback
That’s kind of a shakeup, but maybe it’s a reality check for everybody, too.
“That could be any one of us for not getting the job done and decisions like that are made. You’ve got to live with it and move on. We all wish the best for Garrett, we’re excited about Shayne and what he can bring. At the end of the day, it’s about pulling together as a team and finding ways to win.”