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VOL. 133 | NO. 163 | Friday, August 17, 2018
Don Wade

Don Wade

Now More than Ever, Tigers’ Riley Patterson Says There is No Other Option

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Long after the football had landed outside the goal posts, those missed field goals in the American Athletic Conference title game kept kicking around inside Riley Patterson’s head.

He had scored a career-high 13 points in that game (7PAT/2FG), but he’ll tell you that doesn’t matter.

The University of Memphis lost 62-55 in double overtime at Central Florida, with many mistakes contributing, such as two turnovers and 14 penalties for 127 yards. Patterson still blames himself.

“It was my fault,” said Patterson, who was just a freshman when he missed a 46-yard attempt in the first half of the AAC championship game and then a 51-yarder at the end of regulation that would have won the game.

“So many people were counting on me, and I let them down.”

He isn’t wrong.

Kicking field goals is a pass/fail test. A kicker only exists because the offense can’t get all the way to the end zone. A coach’s decision to attempt a field goal is in itself a concession; this drive can go no further, so let’s let the skinny guy that used to play soccer try and get some points.

Now, Mike Norvell probably never had those thoughts run through his head exactly that way. But truth is, coaches – especially in college – look their most nervous when the game rests on the foot of a kicker.

See Saban, Nick.

But it is here that it is worth noting a couple of key points of fact: Those were not chip shots that Patterson missed. He was just about automatic from inside 40 yards last season (9-for-10) and better, more experienced, NFL kickers have missed far bigger kicks.

Two examples: Scott Norwood’s infamous “wide-right” in Super Bowl XXV with the Buffalo Bills and Gary Anderson’s miss in the 1998 NFC title game with the Minnesota Vikings after being a perfect 35-for-35 during the regular season.

Still seeking their first Super Bowl victory, Bills and Vikings fans have neither forgotten nor forgiven.

Patterson, from Edwardsville, Ill., readied himself for an onslaught of negativity after the AAC championship game. And if not then, it might have come after the 21-20 loss to Iowa State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Although Patterson connected on two field goals, he missed from 38 yards in the first quarter.

But the wave of social media attacks from fans never came. Teammates embraced him rather than shunning him.

“It’s always hard when you miss a big field goal, but we all family, we all team,” said cornerback TJ Carter. “The main thing we wanted to do was support him. And his response to it was awesome, the work he’s putting in. You can see he doesn’t want to do that again.”

To that end, Ferguson first had to go to work on his head.

“Life outside of football is necessary for a kicker,” he said. “I’ve always been a Christian, I am baptized, but this spring it changed me. It makes kicking look so insignificant even though it is such a big deal to everyone in the city.

“But to me as a person it’s not everything I am, it’s not my identity.”

Crucial distinction: None of that means Patterson takes his responsibility any less seriously. Quite the opposite. In his faith he says he found a freedom that is allowing him to take some of the pressure out of kicking.

He vows that he will better than last season when he made 11 of 16 field goal attempts but hit only 2 of 6 beyond 40 yards.

“My mindset now,” he said, “is that there’s not a kick on the field – beyond a certain point, at least – that I can’t make.”

So if anything, he takes an even harder view toward missed field goals than he had previously. He’s had a taste of standing alone in the middle of the field after a big miss. He’s seen other guys go through it too.

“You feel terrible for them, but you’re also like, well, you need to make that,” Patterson said. “I have no remorse anymore for kickers that miss.

“I mean, it is your job.”

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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