With the Saints trying to make an unprecedented fourth-quarter comeback Sunday, nothing seemed surer than kicker Zach Hocker coming through.
After all, in his NFL debut the week before, Hocker had been perfect on all four of his field- goal attempts plus his one from the new extra-point distance.
But with two straight chances to have a major effect on his team’s deficit, Hocker missed on a 42-yard field goal attempt that would have brought the Saints to within seven and then was blocked on a PAT attempt that would made it a three-point game.
Ultimately neither proved as fatal in the Saints’ 26-19 defeat against Tampa Bay as failing to reach the end zone on the final two possessions.
But they were certainly deflating for a team trying to overcome a deficit of at least 16 points in the fourth quarter for the first time in what is now 112 such situations in franchise history.
“It hurts,” Hocker said. “It especially hurts when the entire team is really busting it both on offense and defense.
“And then I come in, and as a player, it’s my job to make the little points for us, and we don’t get them.”
Hocker’s missed kicks weren’t the Saints’ only failures of the fourth quarter.
Mark Ingram’s fumble at his 39 that thwarted what could have been a go-ahead touchdown drive just two plays in and a facemask call against Brandon Browner (one of three times he was flagged Sunday) helped set up Tampa Bay’s final field goal.
Nor were they the Saints’ only special teams miscues of the day.
Rookie Marcus Murphy nearly compounded fielding a punt at his 7 by muffing it, although he did recover. Tampa Bay had 71 yards in kick returns to the Saints’ 23, and even normally reliable punter Thomas Morstead shanked one out of his end zone, although the ball wound up traveling for 46 yards before Bobby Rainey returned it 8 yards to the 40.
“It just happened,” Morstead said. “Historically, I do well when we’re backed up like that, so in that respect, it’s disappointing.”
Morstead added that he didn’t feel that the 25 newcomers on the Saints roster and the amount of early season roster movement the team has made necessarily had a negative impact on special teams where many of the new players wind up seeing extensive duty.
“I’d just have to say that across the boards, we weren’t good on special teams today,” he said. “A lot of things happened we didn’t want to happen.”
But Hocker’s missed kicks topped the list.
His 43-yard attempt went wide left despite Hocker saying he felt he hit the ball as he usually does. And both he and Saints coach Sean Payton said they would have to look at the film before assessing blame for the blocked PAT.
Early in the game, the Saints passed on Hocker trying a 53-yarder, instead electing to punt.
Payton it was “right at that miss-or-make mark” and that he did not want to risk a low trajectory kick that would have given the Bucs good field position. Hocker indicated there was more of a miscommunication, although he added he would not second-guess his coach’s decision even though he felt he was capable of making the kick.
“I had a ton of confidence coming into the game, and the field goal I missed didn’t feel any different from the four I made last week,” he said. “The extra point felt good to me, too.
“We’ll see with the film if it was just blocked or what.
“Whatever happens, I’ll just let it roll off my back and keep going.”
Even after Hocker beat out fellow first-year man Dustin Hopkins for the job in the preseason, the Saints brought in two others for tryouts the week of the Arizona game.
After Sunday’s game, Payton called Hocker “our kicker right now,” but didn’t seem to eliminate the possibility of tryouts before next Sunday’s game at Carolina.
For his part, Hocker, who spent last year out of football after being waived by Washington in the final cut, said he would accept the challenge.
“I didn’t feel any pressure the last time, and I went out and made four field goals that Sunday,” he said. “I was in six workouts last year, so I know what it means to have guys wanting your spot because I was one of them a year ago.
“I’ve fought hard to make this roster, so I can’t look back on today.”