On Sunday evening, Browns fans are busy pointing fingers at defensive coordinator Joe Woods. Or possibly safety Grant Delpit. Or even, ridiculously enough, Nick Chubb, for scoring a touchdown to put the Browns up 13 points with under two minutes left. However, there is one element that fans are overlooking. One that was the talk of the town just one week ago.
That’s rookie kicker Cade York. Blessed with an incredibly strong leg, York saved the Browns from a loss in the season opener and also from being 0-2. York had another solid output against the Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium, knocking three extra points and a field goal, while missing one after Nick Chubb’s third and final touchdown.
This is not to blame Cade York for the Browns loss. There is a litany of issues far greater than him. Rather, this is to illustrate the effect that a kicker’s performance has on a football team, as well as the game itself.
A kicker can change the demeanor of a whole game, for better or worse. In Game 1, the Browns’ defense sputtered and surrendered big plays downfield, not an unfamiliar thing for fans right now. Yet, there was York to lift the team to a win out of nothing, with a miraculous kick that Browns fans haven’t seen in years.
Immediately, the mood was lifted not just on the Browns, but the entire fanbase. Fans made updated predictions, already started talking about 2-0, and the concerns about the defense seemed to be forgotten. That’s the power of a single kick.
Nevertheless, York’s missed extra point marked the beginning of the Browns’ two-minute collapse in Week 2. It was reminiscent of Austin Seibert missing the extra point after an opening touchdown drive in 2019. You could feel the energy sucked out of the stadium after that. The notoriously unique wind patterns at FirstEnergy are something York has to get used to and odds are that he will. Kickers miss kicks.
The bigger special teams issue was the inexcusable onside kick recovered by the Jets. The Browns coaching staff has wide receivers like Amari Cooper playing special teams, who is not paid to pick up bouncing footballs.
Chase McLaughlin in 2021 missed 6/12 kicks down the stretch. Games such as the away matchup in Baltimore represent times when missed three points become a lot more important.
More than the physical loss of three points is the spiritual effect it can have. These games can swing from one end to the other momentum-wise based on a kicker’s performance. Particularly on drives where quarterbacks lead an offense down, receivers make tough catches and offensive lineman and running backs take bruising hits: watching a ball sail wide of the uprights makes that prior effort feel weightless.
The Browns front office has made some questionable moves that could put this season at risk. Most notably among them is trading three first rounders for a quarterback everyone knew would be suspended for a significant chunk of time, while the rest of the team deals with win-now expectations. However, one move that looks more than promising is the aggressiveness in finding a real kicker. One who can not only add lost points to the scoreboard, but one who can lift the spirits of his team as well.
They’ll surely need him this Thursday in a must-win game against Pittsburgh.