It was a kick that changed the trajectory of the Rams’ season.
On Oct. 3 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, with his team trailing by a point, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein lined up for a 44-yard field-goal attempt with 15 seconds left.
Zuerlein was no stranger to game-winning kicks: His 57-yard field goal in overtime in last season’s NFC championship game sent the Rams to the Super Bowl.
But this time — after making all three of his attempts earlier in the game — Zuerlein missed wide right. The Rams lost, 30-29, and suffered the second defeat in what would become a three-game losing streak.
On Sunday, the Rams play the Seahawks at the Coliseum, and Zuerlein is expected to once again play a key role in a series that as of late has not been decided until the final possession.
“If it gets brought up and you’re talking about it, obviously you think about it,” Zuerlein said of the October miss. “Otherwise, you just move on and you make your next kick.”
Zuerlein, 31, has made 22 of 28 field-goal attempts for a Rams team that has a 7-5 record. The Rams trail the Seahawks (10-2) and the San Francisco 49ers (10-2) in the NFC West, but are more realistically chasing the Minnesota Vikings (8-4) in the race for the final NFC wild-card spot.
For Zuerlein, Sunday’s game — or any other — is not a matchup against an opposing team.
“It’s me versus the goal posts,” Zuerlein said. “I mean, just because it’s the same team doesn’t change anything I do.
“I’ve just got to go out there and make kicks. The opponent doesn’t matter.”
This season, Zuerlein made nine of 11 field-goal attempts in the first four games. He had made attempts from 47, 32 and 36 yards against the Seahawks, before the offense positioned him for late heroics.
With 1 minute, 38 seconds left, quarterback Jared Goff drove the offense from the Rams’ seven-yard line to the Seahawks’ 30. But on third-and 10-the Rams were penalized for delay of game, pushing them back to the 35.
Goff completed a nine-yard pass to tight end Gerald Everett, and coach Sean McVay summoned Zuerlein for the 44-yard attempt.
After Zuerlein kicked the ball, holder Johnny Hekker looked up and saw it heading just outside the right upright. Hekker was not concerned.
“All day, balls had been finishing back left, coming back into that corner,” Hekker said this week.
This time, it did not.
“That ball just stayed up,” Hekker said. “One of those freak occurrences.”
The Seahawks took over, quarterback Russell Wilson kneeled after taking a snap, and the Seahawks held off the Rams.
“There’s a lot of plays in that game that could have gone differently, maybe that alter and affect the outcome,” McVay said Friday. “You never let one play define your thoughts on players on offense and defense.
“I think you want to try to be consistent with that, with the kicker position, especially with somebody like him that’s been so clutch.”
Goff said the offense could have moved the ball farther — “left a little bit more meat on that than we wanted to” — which would have given Zuerlein a shorter attempt.
If a similar scenario calling for a field-goal attempt plays out near the end of Sunday’s game, Zuerlein will respond, Goff said.
“I’m very confident if we get into a situation like that, he’ll knock it down,” Goff said.
Zuerlein, an eighth-year pro, has a salary-cap number of nearly $2.6 million this season in the final year of his contract, according to overthecap.com. The Rams could re-sign Zuerlein, possibly use the franchise tag to keep him another year, or let him leave as a free agent.
Zuerlein is not worried about those scenarios.
“If I make kicks,” he said, “everything takes care of itself.”
Tight end Gerald Everett will not play against the Seahawks because of a knee injury. Everett was injured two weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens. He sat out last Sunday’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Offensive lineman Rob Havenstein (knee) is doubtful. If Havenstein sits out, it will be the third game he misses since suffering the injury Nov. 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.