TAMPA — Roberto Aguayo's 38-yard field goal on the final play to beat the Panthers 17-14 Monday night not only won a crucial game for the Bucs, it bought the organization more time to decide which direction to go with their wayward kicker.
The Bucs are going to have to deal with the Aguayo situation soon because if his failures cost them games, it could cause a schism between the coaching staff that is judged on wins and losses and the front office that wants its gamble on drafting the Florida State kicker in the second round to pay off.
When Aguayo lined up for the winner, ESPN analyst and former Bucs coach Jon Gruden said Aguayo was kicking "for his NFL career,'' having missed his two previous field goals Monday. That might be only a slight exaggeration.
Even with the winner, coach Dirk Koetter sounded as disgusted as he did relieved by Aguayo's performance this season. Aguayo is 4-of-8 on field goals with one missed extra point in nine tries.
"I think it's realistic to think in this league that inside of 50 yards, if weather is not a factor, that you're expected to make them, a very high percentage," Koetter said. "There's plenty of kickers in this league that do. There's no doubt that we can all be frustrated at what's going on with Roberto at times. … I thought it said a lot about the way our team responded.
"We probably had a chance to make that game where it didn't come down to the end like that in a game-ending field goal, but whatever happens out there, we have to own it and we have to move forward. We have plenty of things to get better at and one of those is our field goal kicking."
Two years ago, Notre Dame rookie Kyle Brindza won the job over Connor Barth in training camp but made only 6 of 12 field goals, including two of his last seven, and he was 6-of-8 on extra points. Those misses arguably cost the Bucs two wins.
Let's face it, the thing likely causing Aguayo to miss is what is also keeping him here — the Bucs used an assortment of draft picks to move into the second round to take a kicker — a kicker!
Conventional wisdom says that's too high for a specialist, but Licht never liked conventions. You're not talking about some ham-and-egger who won his job in a tryout or training camp. Aguayo is the NCAA's all-time most accurate field goal kicker, having never missed inside of 40 yards. But because FSU ran away from most opponents, Aguayo was rarely if ever in a do-or-go-home situation as he was Monday.
"As we keep going, the more experiences, the more kicks I have, the more mature and better I'm going to get with kicking in the NFL with the surroundings and stuff," Aguayo said. "But definitely it will (help)."
Here's the thing. The accuracy of kickers has increased dramatically through the years in the league. Not long ago a kicker with an 80 percent success rate was the industry standard. Now the best of the biz sometimes pump more than 90 percent of their kicks through the uprights. The Giants and Cowboys converted on 93.75 percent of field goals last season.
That is the reason why the NFL made extra points a 33-yard kick.
History lesson: The Bucs drafted kicker Martin Gramatica out of Kansas State in the third round in 1999. Nicknamed Automatica, he lived up to his billing and then some, helping the Bucs win Super Bowl XXXVII in the 2002 season. Eleven games into the '04 season, he became Erratica, making only 4-of-11 field goals from 30 to 49 yards. Gruden released him. He had to.
Too many jobs were depending on a guy who can kick a ball through the uprights.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.