TAMPA — Roberto Aguayo dabbed his head with a towel but could not wipe the smile off his face Sunday after kicking four field goals in the Bucs' 19-17 win over the Chiefs.
He had fallen one field goal shy of the club record held by Martin Gramatica, who sent him a congratulatory text message that he read in the jubilant visitors locker room at Arrowhead Stadium. When the NFC named Aguayo its special teams player of the week Wednesday, quarterback Jameis Winston had a message for those who had been trolling the rookie.
"Now I'm glad people can get off his back … and they can see this is why we got this guy," Winston said.
After missing four of his first eight field-goal tries to start his NFL career, Aguayo has gone 9-for-10 and from frog to prince faster than any player in the league this season. During that stretch, he also has made 12 of 13 point-after attempts.
The turnaround began with his clutch, last-second 38-yard field goal in a 17-14 win at Carolina on Oct. 10. He had missed two earlier kicks in that game, but with the victory and a bye week to clear his mind, Aguayo was able to relax and shake the pressure that came with the decision by the Bucs to select the Florida State kicker in the second round of the draft.
"I missed two in that game, so I wasn't exactly happy with my performance," Aguayo said. "But at the end of the day, I got the one I needed to go in. … That was the week the Seahawks tied the Cardinals (when both kickers missed field goals in overtime). … So I definitely could pat myself on the back with (making his kick), but still I wasn't happy.
"I took that week off to re-evaluate just where I was and what I wanted to do, and set some goals, and committed to them."
Placekickers have a peculiar place in football. They may have only a handful of plays in a game. But one of those plays can decide the outcome, and the players who have fought for 60 minutes or more expect them to always do their job successfully. They're rarely remembered for anything but a mistake.
"(Aguayo) just kept his head down and kept on grinding," said punter Bryan Anger, who serves as Aguayo's holder. "I said a couple times before, he's been hitting the ball well. He's been practicing really well. A couple of those misses early on, I want to call them rookie misses, rookie mistakes where you're presented with a situation for the first time and hopefully the only time he makes that mistake.
"And now that's over, you hope he won't do it again."
Perspective came for Aguayo after he missed a field goal and an extra point in a devastating 37-32 loss to the Rams on Sept. 25. On the players' day off, he and a few teammates visited Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa where he received words of encouragement from patient Reginald Reaves.
Reaves, who has Stage 1 colon cancer, is an unabashed Seminoles fan and needed to speak only a few words to help Aguayo out of his funk.
"We believe in you," Reaves said. "We know what you can do."
"It just makes you realize the impact you can make and the situation you're in," Aguayo said. "Other things happen in this world that are a lot worse. I just look at that and I'm thankful to be able to play here and I get to go out there and kick every day. Sometimes I just take a deep breath when I'm out there and smell the fresh air before I go out there and kick again. Just thinking of that makes it a lot simpler. Just go out and have fun."
"This is what I do best. I've done it for a long time, and sometimes you've got to realize that."