The phone call almost always comes on a Monday. Nick Novak has been waived by enough NFL teams and joined enough of them mid-season to know that the first day of the work week, after Sunday’s missed field goals, botched point-after tries and injuries, is when changes are made at kicker.
“It was kind of a shock to get the call,” said Novak, a 10-year NFL veteran who was signed by the Chargers on Thursday to replace struggling rookie Younghoe Koo, who was waived in the morning. “I wasn’t expecting that on a Wednesday.”
The timing of the move seemed odd. It would have made more sense two weeks ago, after Koo had a potential game-tying 44-yard field goal blocked in the final seconds of a season-opening 24-21 loss at Denver and missed two field goals, including a potential game-winning 44-yarder, in a 19-17 loss to Miami in Week 2.
Koo, a Georgia Southern product who beat out incumbent Josh Lambo in training camp, actually made both field-goal attempts — from 29 and 28 yards — and all four extra points in subsequent losses to Kansas City and Philadelphia.
So why give Koo the boot now?
“Two weeks ago, Koo was kicking the ball fine,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “He had the one bad outing in Miami. Players have a bad day. But watching him over the last couple weeks, pregame, in practice, you know ... I’ve seen enough. It was time to bring in someone with a little more consistency and experience.”
Lynn said Koo’s confidence was a factor in him winning the job. That swagger seemed to wane in the past two weeks, and the Chargers lost some faith in Koo.
“It was the whole body of work, watching him and evaluating him every day,” Lynn said. “Right now, we feel Nick is the best choice. He’s been an accurate kicker for a long time, and his experience in big games … as you know, every game we’ve played has been close, and every play, every point matters.
“But I think Koo is gonna have a long NFL career. I told him a lot of rookies get cut early in their career and come back and play for a lot of years. He may be back here, who knows?”
Novak, 36, is proof you can return to a team that cut you. He was waived by the Chargers twice, in 2009 and in 2015, the latter move coming after he made 101 of 177 field-goal attempts (86.3%) in four seasons (2011-2014) to become the second most accurate kicker in franchise history.
Novak has connected on 173 of 209 field-goal attempts (82.8%) with a long of 53 yards over a 10-year NFL career with Arizona, Washington, Kansas City, San Diego and Houston.
He’s known more for accuracy than distance, having made all 59 attempts up to 29 yards, 55 of 66 (83.3%) from 30-39 yards, 43 of 55 (78.2%) from 40-49 yards and 16 of 29 (55.2%) from 50 yards or more. His best season with the Chargers was 2013, when he made 34 of 37 field goals for a franchise-record 91.9%..
“Every kick is the same to me,” Novak said. “Sometimes, it may come down to [a game-winning kick at the end]. I love that situation.”
Novak has been released nine times. He played in 2007 with an NFL Europe team in Germany and in 2010 with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League.
He spent the past two seasons with the Texans, making 53 of 62 field goals (85.5%) in 29 games. He was cut at the end of camp, losing the job former UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn.
“Unfortunately, as kickers, there’s only 32 jobs,” said Novak, who practiced Thursday and will travel with the Chargers for Sunday’s game in New Jersey against the Giants. “When you’re out, the only way you really get back in is if someone’s hurt or struggling. It’s an unfortunate part of the business.”
Koo was gone before reporters were allowed to enter the locker room Thursday, but the kicker tweeted: “Wish nothing but the best for the Chargers. I’m grateful for the opportunity. The journey doesn’t stop here.”
Linebacker Jatavis Brown (ankle) and running back Branden Oliver (hamstring) sat out practice for a second straight day on Thursday. Right tackle Joe Barksdale (foot) was limited Thursday after missing Wednesday, and left guard Matt Slauson (triceps) was a full participant after being limited Wednesday. … Giants defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder/knee) and Oliver Vernon (ankle) have not practiced this week. … Chargers defensive end Jerry Attaochu, who started 12 games in 2015 but has been slowed by injuries since, appears physically sound but is not likely to be activated Sunday for the fifth straight week. Chris McCain, who has three sacks, has played well enough to retain the job. “Chris is playing well, so Jerry is waiting on the runway right now,” Lynn said. “He’s behind Chris in the rotation.”
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