It wasn't the first time Daniel Carlson lined up to attempt a game-winning 35-yard field goal, but this time around ended in a different result.
Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers, Carlson — a member of the Minnesota Vikings at the time — was thrust into a tense late-game situation. With just four seconds left on the clock in overtime, the former University of Auburn Tiger trotted on to the field to attempt the first clutch kick of his young NFL career; however, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy was going to make him stew about it.
A strategy as old as time, McCarthy called a timeout just before the kick to try and "ice" Carlson, and it worked. The 23-year-old pushed his kick just right of the posts, with the Week 2 division battle resulting in a tie. Carlson immediately hunched over, laden with disappointment.
He was waived by the Vikings the very next day.
Six weeks later, the placekicker found himself on the Oakland Raiders' roster, ready for another shot in the NFL. In the three games he's worn the Silver and Black, Carlson has converted all four of his extra point attempts, and made 75 percent of his field goal attempts, but none were bigger than the one he kicked Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
It must've felt like déjà vu for Carlson, another last-second field goal attempt from 35 yards, and one last chance to lift his team to victory. Prior to Carlson heading out for what could be the game-winner, Derek Carr and the offense had just finished orchestrating a clinical aerial attack to put the team within striking distance. With three seconds left on the clock, Carlson stood staring up at the field goal posts, and upon the snap he blasted it down the middle with ease.
Carlson, his teammates, and his coaches on the sideline rejoiced as he had just given the team its first win since Week 4.
"I wasn't trying to let the moment be too big, and I was just trying to do what I could for my teammates," Carlson said postgame. "It's fun to celebrate after a kick like that."
"That was almost a little redemption," he added. "The one I missed in Minnesota was probably 35 yards, so with this one I think it was too. It's cool to finally get the opportunity again like that, obviously it was cool for the team. I'm happy to be here, love getting with all these guys, and they've been welcoming me really well. I'm excited to keep working toward the future."
It's been a challenging season for the Raiders, no doubt about it, but the turnover on special teams has left the coaching staff searching for answers. Carlson is the fifth kicker to suit up for the team since training camp, and it appears as though the Raiders have found a reliable kicker for the time being.
"Carlson, we've been looking for a kicker that can make critical kicks," Head Coach Jon Gruden told the media after the win. "A guy that can help us change field position with kickoffs, and so far we're really happy with him."
Gruden also revealed that Carlson would be getting a game ball after the game, and boy, did he earn it. While the climax of the game featured Carlson's heroic moment, he wasn't about to accept full credit for the team's come-from-behind win.
"That one felt really good," he explained. "I hit all of them really clean, so it kind of feels good to have kicks like that leading up to that. You can kind of just commit to yourself, 'hey, same exact kick as that last one.' Derek [Carr] and the offense set me up in great field position, defense did a great job stopping them obviously. So we were able to knock it through, and it's a big win for us."
This has been a rookie season Carlson will never forget, and like any rookie he's learning along the way. No one is perfect, and while his NFL career may have started with rocky circumstances, he seems to be finding his footing.
"I think I'm learning a lot as a rookie. Me, [long snapper] Trent [Sieg], and [punter] Johnny [Townsend] are all three rookies, so we're all kind of in this together, and we've all had different paths," Carlson shared. "I think you learn a lot this first season, so hitting a kick like this, and continue to just get more experience will help build confidence. I'm just out there every time, not doing anything different than what I do every day at practice. Just come to work, and try to be consistent, and try to be the same every single rep."