- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

Three years ago last week, the then-unknown Shaun Suisham became Washington’s kicker. Suisham, a Canadian who played college ball at Bowling Green, had spent a preseason with Pittsburgh and another with Dallas. He had made four of six field goal attempts in five games for the Cowboys in 2005 and 2006.

There was no reason to think Suisham would end the Redskins’ revolving door at kicker. The team had gone through 12 different players at the position since Norv Turner decided during training camp in 1995 that Chip Lohmiller no longer had it.

But during his 49-game tenure, the soft-spoken Suisham has been the most accurate kicker in Redskins history, more reliable than franchise career scoring leader Mark Moseley and the big-legged Lohmiller. And as expected, Suisham had been perfect inside 30 yards, never missing in 26 tries.

That is, until late Sunday afternoon, with the Redskins leading the undefeated New Orleans Saints 30-23 on a chilly afternoon at FedEx Field. With 1:56 left, Suisham lined up for a 23-yard chip shot that would’ve sealed the upset of the season.

But in a game filled with the bizarre and the unexpected, Suisham provided the most unlikely outcome. He shanked the gimme wide right. Five plays later, the game was tied. And 6:20 into overtime, Suisham’s New Orleans counterpart, Garrett Hartley, nailed the 18-yard game-winner.

“I feel terrible,” Suisham said with glistening eyes. “It’s about as difficult as it gets. We have the New Orleans Saints coming in here. The guys play an unbelievable game. And I miss that kick.”

Turns out that Suisham had a little help, so to speak, in committing his big mistake. Ethan Albright, impeccable as any NFL snapper for 15 seasons, had launched this snap through his legs with too high a trajectory.

“It was an uncharacteristic operation for us altogether,” said holder Hunter Smith, an 11-year veteran. “The snap was a little high.”

High enough to throw off the entire play. Smith had to reach a little farther for the ball. That split-second delay prevented Suisham from kicking in full rhythm. And with that came the miss that likely will define this season of agony for coach Jim Zorn and the Redskins.

“It starts with me,” Albright said as he zipped his equipment bag. “I threw the rhythm off. It’s my job is to do it right. There’s never a good time for a bad snap.”

No, but there’s a horribly bad time. That time came Sunday in the waning moments of a game that could’ve given the Redskins a reason to look back on this horror of a season with a smile. They would’ve been the team that ended the high-flying Saints’ hopes of a perfect season.

“Hunter did a nice job getting the ball down, [but Shaun] doesn’t expect the ball to be slammed [down] and had to make the adjustment,” Zorn said. “It was unfortunate.”

Suisham had been even more accurate than ever this season, hitting 18 of 20 attempts before his final attempt Sunday. One of those misses came after a long delay by the officials in Dallas, and the other was from 50 yards. He had made field goals of 32, 38 and 21 yards earlier Sunday.

“The bottom line is, and Shaun would agree with this, you have to make the kick,” Smith said. “He will make that kick [in the future]. I’ve held for some of the best kickers ever [Mike Vanderjagt and Adam Vinatieri in Indianapolis], and they all miss easy kicks that cost their team.”

After nearly as agonizing last-minute losses the previous two Sundays at Dallas and Philadelphia, Suisham’s miss cost his team a victory - but not a season.

And Suisham, who doesn’t have a contract for 2010, managed to speak of a brighter day, perhaps as soon as next Sunday.

“I won’t allow that kick to define me,” he said. “The one thing I’m going to do this week is get to work and get ready for Oakland.”

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