Through five weeks of the 2012 Miami Dolphins season, the clear leader in the clubhouse for official team goat was kicker Dan Carpenter. Carpenter was barely needed in the seasoning opening blowouts the Dolphins received in Houston and gave out at home to the Oakland Raiders. But, his season turned rocky as soon as he was called upon. In Week 3, with the Dolphins dominating an eminently beatable New York Jets team on the field, but keeping it close on the scoreboard, Carpenter failed on two opportunities to put the Dolphins in position for a huge early-season divisional win.
With just under 11 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, Carpenter hooked a 47-yard field goal wide left. While certainly not a gimme, the kick would have put the Dolphins up 20-13. When the Jets scored a touchdown later in the quarter, Carpenter was again called on and drilled a 41-yarder with only seconds on the clock, a kick that could have been a game-winner but instead sent the game to overtime. In overtime, given the opportunity to atone for his earlier miss with a 48-yard game winner, Carpenter again pushed a kick left, a miss that directly led to the Jets completing a short drive for the game ending field goal. Kicks of these distances are neither easy nor automatic, but with a young and decidedly average team such as Miami, there is a lot of pressure on a kicker to deliver on each and every opportunity.
Next week, the Dolphins were in Arizona facing a then undefeated Cardinals team in another winnable game. Carpenter made two field goals, but also missed one, albeit from 51 yards. While any field goal over 50 yards is always a difficult make, Carpenter began to have the look and feel of a kicker on the brink of one of those famous kicker funks.
In week 5, the Dolphins traveled to Cincinnati. Carpenter was able to drill a 46-yarder, but was again sent out by coach Joe Philbin for a 53-yard bomb of a field goal, which he was unable to connect on. The Dolphins were able to win the game, but Dolphin fans were certainly calling for Carpenter’s head, or at least looking for the team to bring in some competition.
In week 6, Carpenter made his only kick, and he proceeded to go on a stretch where he made 16 of his final 17 field goal attempts of the season, before a groin injury shut him down following week 15. At year’s end, fans and pundits alike were noting the Dolphins’ need to consider replacing Carpenter for the next season. But here’s my question…uh, why, exactly?
Look, Carpenter’s season won’t go down in the annals of kicking legend, but with the exclusion of a three game stretch in which he went 5 of 9, Carpenter missed only one kick in the remaining eleven games he played in. Not to mention, the average distance of the kicks he missed all season was a whopping 50 yards! That’s the average! Yes, Carpenter suffered from the deer in the headlights look, and yes, were he slightly more clutch in the Jets game in particular the Dolphins would have been on the path to a more successful season, but there are plenty of teams in the league who would take the season Carpenter had, and there are few kickers who could pick themselves up from a funk as quickly as Carpenter did.
Furthermore, Carpenter finished in the top half of the league’s kickers in touchback percentage (14th), and that despite the Dolphins penchant for the occasional directional and/or pooch kickoff. Carpenter also managed to get the Dolphins’ team kickoff ranking into the top half of the league in Football Outsiders DVOA at 16th. And the man made every field goal from inside of 47 yards all season long! Consistency and the ability to convert when you are supposed to is a very important quality in a kicker, and it is one that Carpenter certainly exhibited.
Carpenter’s season was not his best, it was not Pro Bowl worthy, and there were certainly better kickers in the NFL this year. But, it also was nowhere near as bad as the public perception would make it out to be. It simply was average, or even slightly above average, and for that reason, I give him a season grade of C+.
Carpenter has a cap hit of $3 million for 2013, which while slightly high for an average kicker, is a luxury the Dolphins may well be able to afford given their current cap situation. It always makes sense to have cheaper competition in camp, something the Dolphins have not done in recent years, but with a young team it also doesn’t bode well to have an unreliable kicker. Thus, I would expect Carpenter to be back in 2013, and I do not think that is a bad thing at all. In this, one of his worst seasons, he was a league average kicker, and he certainly has the potential to be better in the future.