LOS ANGELES — Evan McPherson hasn’t even finished his first season in Cincinnati, but he’s already etched his name into Bengals history. The rookie kicker has two game-winning field goals under his belt this postseason and if he can add one more, he’ll also be etching his name into NFL history.
McPherson is in the midst of one of the greatest postseason performances that the NFL has ever seen and he could put a giant exclamation point on Cincinnati’s season if he can kick the Bengals to their first Super Bowl win in franchise history.
The thing about the Super Bowl, though, is that it can break down even the best of kickers. On the NFL’s biggest stage, kickers who had ice in their veins all season can see it melt down to nothing.
There’s so much pressure in the Super Bowl that every kick over 40 yards is basically a crapshoot. In the 55-year history of the game, kickers have connected on just 57.3% of their attempts beyond 40 yards (To put that in perspective, NFL kickers combined to hit 73.4% of their kicks over 40 yards in 2021). With the percentages so low, that creates drama on nearly every kick.
Rams kicker Matt Gay hit 84.6% of his field goals from beyond 40 yards during the regular season, but he hit just 60% of his kicks from that distance in the playoffs.
Every kicker fantasizes about hitting a game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl, but that dream kick can turn into a nightmare just as quickly. There’s a fine line between famous and infamous and it’s a line we’ve seen Super Bowl kickers walk throughout history. If you make a game-winning field goal, you’ll end up on the famous side of things like Adam Vinatieri, but if you miss a big field goal, you’ll end up on the infamous side of things like Scott Norwood.
Of course, If anyone can emulate Vinatieri, it’s the guy who’s breaking all his records. McPherson has already hit 12 field goals this postseason and if he hits three more, he’ll break Vinatieri’s record for the most field goals in a single postseason. McPherson has also hit four field goals in each of the Bengals’ three playoff games this year, which is tied with Vinatieri for the most four-field goal games in NFL postseason history. It took Vinatieri 24 seasons to set the record, but it only took McPherson one postseason to tie it.
If McPherson has another four-field goal game in the Super Bowl, not only would he break Vinatieri’s record, but he might even put himself in line to win MVP of the game, which is something that has never happened. In a twist, the Bengals’ first two Super Bowl appearances both came close to producing an MVP kicker.
In Super Bowl XVI, 49ers kicker Ray Wersching hit four field goals in a 26-21 win and probably should have won MVP, but the award went to Joe Montana, who threw for just 157 yards in the win.
In Super Bowl XXIII, Bengals kicker Jim Breech was the game’s leading scorer. On a night where the Bengals didn’t score an offensive touchdown, Breech hit three field goals in a game the Bengals were leading 16-13 with just 40 seconds left.
Even though Vinatieri hit a game-winning field goal in two different Super Bowls, he was never voted MVP (Tom Brady won it both times).
If McPherson does break any of Vinatieri’s records this year, it would be fitting, because Vinatieri is the one kicker he’s looked up to in his life.
“I loved to watch his run with the Patriots when he’s kicking game-winners in the Super Bowl,” McPherson said at Super Bowl Media Night. “I think that’s every kid’s dream is to hit the game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl.
The thing about McPherson is that being a rookie might actually come in handy for the Super Bowl and that’s because when you’re young, you don’t know what you don’t know.
“You don’t have time to really think about the situation,” McPherson said this week when asked about why he’s been so good at making big kicks. “You’re out there, you take your steps, you kick the ball, you walk off the field. You don’t really have time to overthink the situation.”
McPherson really only had one bad game this season, which came in a Week 5 loss to the Packers, and even though he missed two field goals, it didn’t phase him because he used the misses as a learning experience.
“I think you probably learn from your misses more than your makes,” McPherson said. “You definitely learn from moments like those.”
If there’s any Super Bowl that could come down to a field goal, it definitely feels like this one. This game will mark just the second time in NFL history that two teams will be playing each other after winning their past two games by exactly three points.
For the Bengals, every game seems to come down to a field goal, but that hasn’t fazed Shooter McPherson, aka Money Mac, aka Kick McPherson, aka Evan Almighty (the guy has as many nicknames as he does clutch kicks).
“In my mind, I’m walking out there thinking ‘there’s no way this ball isn’t going through the uprights,'” McPherson said.
That’s the kind of confidence you need to kick in the Super Bowl, which is why McPherson will likely be hoping that this game comes down to his right foot.