METAIRIE, La. – When Garrett Hartley pushed two field goals wide left against Minnesota in the season opener, there were peeps of discontent with the kicker who sent the Saints to the Super Bowl.
Two weeks later, Hartley’s critical miss wide left of a 29-yard, game-winning field goal in overtime against Atlanta. The miss gave the Falcons an opening and minutes later, Atlanta took the NFC South Division lead with a field goal of its own.
The peeps turned into roars. The Internet was atwitter and radio call-in shows were filled with people calling for Hartley’s dismissal.
Within the confines of the Saints’ Airline Drive facility, however, that was never close to happening.
“Honestly we weren’t at that point that maybe you guys were in regards to a change with him,” Head Coach Sean Payton said. “We see too much and too many things that he’s doing well. He has too much leg talent and he’s produced in big spots for us.”
Nine games later, Hartley has vindicated his head coach, hitting on 10 of his last 11 and five in a row, including three crucial kicks against Dallas and two critical ones against Cincinnati.
Largely due to his consistency through the middle part of the season, the Saints are one game out of the league’s best record and have won five in a row.
Nevertheless, Hartley isn’t taking anything for granted these days. Even when he makes field goals in practice, he said he’ll watch film of the kicks he doesn’t feel comfortable with and correct the mistakes the next day.
During the rough patch, he never lost confidence in his abilities. There would never be a chance of that, in fact, thanks to his support system.
“I think there were days he needed reassurance but that’s just like anybody,” punter Thomas Morstead said. “I would say Garrett’s very prideful about what he does, which is good. He has an extreme amount of confidence. Sometimes you just have to remind him how good he is.”
“Confidence from the head coach in any player, let alone a kicker, really will help his game or affect it,” Hartley said. “(Payton) has been great. The coaching staff, the players, the teammates, everybody in my support system.”
The Saints are on their third long-snapper of the season. Chase Daniel now is the holder instead of Morstead. And still Hartley remains within himself.
He does it by staying levelheaded, which he was when his skill was being questioned early in the season.
“When things aren’t going your way and it doesn’t matter how well things are going in practice or preseason, to be able to stay on that keel and just know things are going to turn around, things are going to get better, just keep working and things will work out - I’m a believer in that and right now we’re going out there and executing what we need to do,” Hartley said.
Hartley said he has changed the tempo of his motion, controlling instead of “attacking the ball fast.”
Still, he realizes that his recent success could be stripped away just quickly as he got it back. That’s the nature of the business.
“It’s all about performing on game day and being productive and that’s my ultimate goal,” Hartley said. “We had to change it around in a hurry and so far we’ve been able to go out there and execute what we need to do. WE just have to go to keep working at it.
“It doesn’t matter if we’ve hit our last five or missed out last two. We come to work the same way every day knowing what we nee to do to improve.”