The man they call “Money” sure picked a rough time to start coming up short. But the Cowboys maintain they won’t be making any change when it comes to the specialist position.
Kicker Brett Maher struggled through a historically-bad performance Monday night in Tampa, missing four of his five point-after-touchdown attempts. That makes him the first kicker since 1932 to miss four PATs in a single game.
To have it happen in the playoffs made it even more shocking… and ominous.
Thankfully, the game didn’t come down to a field goal, and those four lost points proved not to be a factor in the Cowboys’ demonstrative 31-14 win. But any games the Cowboys get to play from here on out will be against teams with much better records than the Buccaneers, and Maher’s sudden case of the yips would seem to be of serious concern moving forward in the postseason.
But despite Maher also missing a PAT- his only attempt- in Week 17 to connect on just one of is last six kicks, head coach Mike McCarthy intends to stand by the man who also scored more points in a single season than any Cowboy in history.
“We need Brett, and he understands that,” McCarthy told reporters in his postgame press conference Monday night. “We need to get back on it this week, and get him ready to go. Obviously, we are kicking in an outdoor stadium out there in Santa Clara.”
Maher had lived up to his nickname for most of the season, his second stint with the team (third if you count a brief two-week stay as injury insurance for Dan Bailey during the 2013 preseason). He had missed just three field goals- a 46-yarder and two from 59 yards- and connected on 50 of 53 PATs all year.
And he hadn’t missed multiple kicks in any game this season. Until Monday night.
It was so bad, according to Cowboys sideline reporter Kristi Scales, that the team was actually running out of kicking balls because Maher had sent so many into the stands.
“He’s disappointed,” McCarthy explained, “but we need him. We need him to focus in, and he’s been super clutch for us all year. So that’s the plan.”
After his first two attempts sailed wide right, Maher’s third try went left. Then the fourth hit the right upright and caromed away.
The veteran admitted afterward that he was likely trying too hard to overcorrect with his later kicks.
“In hindsight, I think yes,” Maher said via the team website. “I didn’t feel like that was my mentality going out there, but yeah, just not good enough.”
The 33-year-old was able to punch in his final PAT of the night, in the fourth quarter.
And despite quarterback Dak Prescott voicing his frustrations on the sideline- cameras caught him shouting, “Go for [expletive] two!” after one of Maher’s misses- the kicker says he was getting nothing but encouragement from teammates during his nightmare performance.
“I feel very fortunate to have the teammates that I do,” Maher said. “To be in the locker room and the coaching staff: they absolutely lifted me up today. I so appreciate every single one of them. It’s time for me to do my part.”
Even Prescott had come around by the time he spoke to media members after the win.
“I’m Money Maher’s biggest fan,” Prescott said. “Obviously, I’ve been shown the video of me; it’s just emotions, that’s part of it. I talked to him individually. Just told him after the game to let that go; we’re going to need him. I just played like [expletive] a week ago. I mean, that happens. But when you believe in each other, you believe in what we’re capable of doing and knowing what that guy has done, with the resiliency he’s shown throughout his career personally, no doubt he’ll come back next week and be perfect and help us win.”
Team owner Jerry Jones was just as confident in Maher in the moments after Dallas’s statement win, saying the team would not be trying out any new kickers prior to the weekend’s divisional matchup with the 49ers.
“No. No. We won’t,” Jones said Monday night. “He’s done enough good ones. I don’t think he’s blown the socket or whatever you do.”
But by Tuesday morning, Jones sounded a little less sold on Money’s spot being guaranteed.
“We’ll read this thing as the week goes along,” he told Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan. “I don’t want to get out over our skis and get ahead of it. I thought when he came out at halftime- I watched him warm up out there- he was making all the kicks. I figured that was behind him, but we will take a look at it. [It would be] really a big setback to go into the rest of this tournament, rest of this playoff, with shakiness at kicker.”
Adding to the uneasiness is Maher’s past history with the club. Good enough in 2018 to force Bailey’s release, Maher finished that season in the top 10 in field goals. And in 2019, he sank two from over 60 yards early in the season, only to have accuracy issues late in the year, leading to a December release.
He was good on better than 90% of both field goals and extra points in the 2022 regular season, his reunion tour with the Cowboys.
But on Tuesday, Jones even allowed for the possibility of carrying two kickers on the gameday roster if the the team feels it can’t rely on one.
“It’s an imposition to have to use up that extra roster spot,” the owner explained, “but it’s doable.”
Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen, now 62, jokingly threw his own cleats into the ring on social media during Maher’s performance.
Having two kickers on the playoff roster would be an extreme emergency plan, to be sure, but the Cowboys were almost forced into that sort of mindset Monday night versus the Bucs.
McCarthy confirmed that, had they not held a significant lead in their first-round tilt, they might have considered going for two-point conversions rather than continuing to send their struggling kicker onto the field.
“That’s definitely a consideration,” McCarthy said.
While the coaching staff explores all their options moving forward, Maher will simply keep plugging away, hoping that when he lines up for his next boot, the team will continue to look at him as money in the bank.
“Get back at it,” the kicker said of his plan for turning things around. “Hit some balls, have a great week of practice, get myself ready to go.”