Nick Folk: This one is on me
Shortly after the Bucs’ 19-14 loss to the New England Patriots, coach Dirk Koetter huddled with general manager Jason Licht just outside the club’s locker room.
For the second time in five days, place-kicker Nick Folk’s missed field goals was the topic.
“You don’t want to make any rash decisions,’’ Koetter said, without making a commitment to Folk.
Folk, who missed an extra point and two field goals but kicked the game-winner on the final play against the Giants Sunday, likely cost the Bucs a win Thursday night. He missed three more field goals – two in the fourth quarter – including a 31-yarder with 5:36 remaining and the Bucs trailing 16-7.
Folk also missed from 56 yards on the final play of the first half and from 49 yards, giving him five missed field goals in his last six attempts this season.
“It’s unfortunate,’’ Koetter said. “When Nick won the job in training camp, he’s been really solid. What happened last week came out of left field. The last two weeks hasn’t exactly been what you’re looking for.’’
But let’s not forget how the Bucs wound up with Folk in the first place.
The Bucs traded up to the second round of the 2016 NFL draft to select Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo. The decision by Licht was highly scrutinized at the time, but Aguayo was the most accurate kicker in NCAA history.
However, Aguayo struggled as a rookie, making only 22 of 31 field goal attempts with a long of 43 yards. That prompted the Bucs to hedge their bets by signing Folk, a 32-year-old veteran in his 12th season. They even guaranteed him $750,000.
When Aguayo struggled in the preseason, Koetter and Licht decided that Folk was their place-kicker. Aguayo was claimed off waivers by the Chicago Bears, but could not wrestle the job from Connor Barth and was released.
Folk was a career 83 percent field goal kicker when he joined the Bucs. Last season, he made 27 of 31 field goal attempts (87.1 percent).
But the past two games, Folk has completely lost his stroke during games. Koetter said he stuck with him following the Giants game because Folk had a good week of practice.
“Bad week,’’ Folk said. “It started last Sunday and today. Bad week.
“I left points out there. We should’ve won 20-19. This one is on me.’’
Folk was asked if he had been through a similar stretch of failure during his career.
“I’m sure at some point,’’ Folk said. “But I just got to keep my head down, keep working. Try to get better.’’
Folk said he wasn’t sure what was causing the missed kicks. Two of them were wide left and the 56-yard attempt would’ve tied a career long.
“Yeah, the 56-(yard attempt) at the end of the half there, I tried to give it a ride,’’ Folk said. “Didn’t hit it great, but I got enough of it. The other two I didn’t hit well.’’
Folk was asked if he was concerned about remaining with the team. “That’s not anything I’m concerned with right now,’’ he said. “You just keep swinging.’’
The Bucs did not do Folk any favors Thursday. The offense did not show up until the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jameis Winston had 109 yards passing entering the fourth quarter. He finished 26-of-46 for 334 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Winston nearly brought the Bucs back to win again. After Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 48-yard field goal to expand the lead, Tampa Bay took over needing a touchdown with 1:10 to play and no timeouts.
Winston completed three passes to move the Bucs from their own 25-yard line to the Patriots’ 19. But after spiking the football to kill the clock with 2 seconds left, he fired incomplete in the end zone to tight end O.J. Howard.
“There’s two seconds on the clock, your quarterback has to make a play for you,’’ Winston said. “You got to do something. As a quarterback, you’ve got to make a play.’’
Winston said it was unfair to place all the blame on Folk.
“You bounce back. It’s not his fault,’’ Winston said. “We were in a position to win the game. Two seconds on the clock. Somebody has to make a play….it hurts because it was there.’’
What really hurts is that the Bucs will have to continue chasing a solution to their place-kicking situation. It would be very unlikely that Folk could survive the performance had this week, missing a total of six kicks.