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September 15, 2015

Time to panic over Parkey? Not so fast, says Chip Kelly

In 20 games last season, including the preseason, Cody Parkey missed just four field goals and was 8-for-10 on kicks of 40 yards or more. That’s one of the reasons the former Auburn kicker made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year. The other reason? The Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl, meaning their kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, was no longer eligible to participate.

But in the three games since — one regular season and two preseason — the 23-year-old has missed at least one field goal in each. He also missed an extra point attempt in the preseason opener against the Colts.

Not exactly Pro Bowl numbers. Not even for an alternate.

It's also not what you want to see out of a sophomore kicker who last year hit four go-ahead or game-tying field goals in the fourth quarter, including a 51-yard game winner to beat the Colts on Monday Night Football. But Eagles coach Chip Kelly is standing by his kicker, despite the nagging injury that kept Parkey out of two preseason games and his overall struggles so far this year.

All preseason long, Kelly had told us not to worry about Parkey. But after he missed a 44-yarder against the Falcons Monday night, one that would’ve given the Eagles a 27-26 lead with just over two minutes remaining, is it time to hit the panic button?

“Not now,” Kelly said Tuesday. “Because I have total confidence in Cody Parkey. He was a Pro Bowl kicker last year. I think he’s an outstanding kicker. And he has the total confidence of everyone in this organization."

How long that confidence lasts still remains to be seen. For now, at least, Chip is chalking it up to simply a missed field goal and not a sign of things to come.

“He’s been great," Kelly said when asked how his kicker's looked in practice. "We haven’t seen any issues for us to push the panic button at all. You’re going to miss kicks over the course of the season. Unfortunately for him and us, he missed one at the end of the Falcons game.”

He's right. It’s hard to feel justified in panicking over a three-game sample size, especially when two of the games didn’t even count. Every kicker misses at some point during the season. 

But it can’t be ignored, especially when he’s missing kicks in such big spots. Like goalies in hockey or closers in baseball, kickers thrive on confidence. It’s not unlike shooting a free throw with the game on the line. If you think you’re going to miss, well, you probably will. Is that enough sports analogies, because I have a golf one too?

The thing is, once we hit the proverbial panic button, we’re essentially ending Parkey’s career in Philly. When fans, or more importantly, his coaches and teammates lose faith in a kicker’s ability, his days are numbered. Just ask Alex Henery.

That’s why you won’t hear Kelly rip his kicker. Instead, you’ll hear phrases like “total confidence” and adjectives like “outstanding,” even if he’s been anything but so far in 2015. Kelly needs to stand by Parkey if he doesn’t want to lose a talented player to mental frustrations. 

Plus, it would be unfair to blame Parkey for a loss in which he was on the field for just two* plays. It wasn't his job to cover Julio Jones. He wasn't responsible for the 17-point halftime deficit the Eagles faced. He didn't commit any of the team's 10 penalties. 

*Not counting kickoffs and extra points

On Monday night after the game, however, a dejected Parkey told reporters he “let the team down.”

“There's no rhyme or reason to missing,” he said. “I’m human and I missed. Don't know what to tell you."

It's hard not to feel for the kid. But that's the way it goes for kickers. If he hits a game-winner against the Cowboys next week, his miss against the Falcons will feel like ancient history.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin