- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2016

Jokes flooded social media after Dustin Hopkins’ first missed field goal against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Hopkins ran onto the field to prepare for the 43-yard kick. That 93,099 inside AT&T Stadium were screaming at him was enough of a distraction. Add a national television audience and all the pressure a kicker could want in the regular season was present.

Then, the Redskins called timeout.

Right guard Brandon Scherff was hurt. Right tackle Morgan Moses ran onto the field to replace him with the field goal unit. Hopkins missed his kick wide to the left. That led to head-shaking comedy about the Washington Redskins icing their own kicker.

Hopkins’ work has moved from Swiss-watch reliability to finger crossing. He started the season 12-for-12, becoming a weapon for the Redskins, particularly when considering their ongoing red-zone problems. Those issues continue to baffle. One of the league’s best offenses is 29th in touchdown percentage in the red zone. That creates a lot of responsibility, and opportunity, for Hopkins.

It wasn’t until Week 5 that he missed. That error came when he kicked into a snaking wind in Baltimore. He made his other kick that day, pushing him to 12-for-13 on the season. Two more makes the following week had Hopkins at a Pro-Bowl level of 14-for-15 six weeks into the season. He had made his only kick of 50-plus yards, and four other field goals from 40-49 yards.

Then, a 45-yard attempt hit the upright in Detroit, making him 1-for-2 on the day. An infamous miss in London followed. Hopkins’ 34-yard attempt in overtime went wide left. The Redskins would tie the Cincinnati Bengals instead of picking up a crucial win in what is a jam-packed NFC playoff race. He bounced back with a 4-for-4 performance the next week. But, in Dallas, he again faltered, missing twice, making him 22n in the league in field-goal percentage.

The post-timeout miss was not discussed much. Hopkins missing from 55 yards was picked over a lot. Not just because he missed, but also because of the decision of Redskins coach Jay Gruden to attempt the kick.

Hopkins was kicking into the late-afternoon glare of the low-level Texas sun streaking through AT&T Stadium’s massive end zone windows. Despite the stadium being a dome, the sun was a factor. The longest field goal of Hopkins’ career was 54 yards coming in. If the struggling kicker misses, the Cowboys’ offense would again have a short field against the shaky Redskins defense. Gruden sent Hopkins out any way.

“I think he can make it,” Gruden said on Thanksgiving. “I think he can make it nine times out 10. I got to take the points. An ordinary kicker — he’s got plenty of leg, he just pushed it.”

Hopkins is not one to hide after failures. He went through multiple stops with the media after the game to discuss his two field goal misses. He discarded the sun as a problem on the 55-yard attempt.

“It was unfortunate where the sun was at the time, but when I’m looking down at the ball, that’s not the issue,” Hopkins said. “That’s not an excuse.”

He was also flat in his assessment of missing twice during a five-point loss to the division leading Cowboys, who also double as Washington’s most despised rival.

“I’m paid to make kicks,” Hopkins said.

Gruden said despite his belief that Hopkins should have hit both kicks, he has not lost confidence in his kicker.

“I’m not worried about him,” Gruden said on Thanksgiving. “I have faith that he’s going to make those kicks. I see him do it every day in practice.”

He just hasn’t seen it in the game as much lately.

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