Morten’s Musings: The NFL at the Midway Point

Writer’s Note: I had the chance to interview Pro Football Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen for The original article has been updated here to include Sunday’s wins by the Patriots and 49ers.

(Photo of Morten Andersen courtesy Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports)

With NFL teams at the midpoint of their schedules and two unbeatens remaining – the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and upstart San Francisco 49ers — it felt like an opportune time to get the thoughts of Pro Football Hall of Famer Morten Andersen.

Andersen, enshrined in Canton in 2017, had a standout 25-year NFL career with New Orleans, Atlanta, Kansas City, and the New York Giants, and retired in 2007 as the league’s all-time leading scorer with 2,544 points. He is one of only two players who were exclusively kickers in the Hall and second on the league’s all-time scoring list behind Adam Vinatieri. Andersen remains the all-time leader with 382 games played.

Andersen has been thoroughly impressed with the Patriots, who are coming off a 27-13 victory over Cleveland to improve to 8-0 and have a defense that has the chance to be considered among the all-time NFL greats. New England has conceded just four touchdowns defensively and recorded an NFL-best 19 interceptions while holding opponents to 234 yards per game.

“The defense is better than I thought it would be,” Andersen said. “As the season progresses, that becomes more and more important – stop the run, force turnovers, kick field goals for field position. Understanding situational football personifies the Patriots and (coach Bill) Belichick more than anything.”

Andersen, whose longevity in the NFL is nearly unsurpassed, also opined on whether Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will reach his oft-stated goal of playing until he is 45. Currently 42, Brady has shown few signs of slowing down with 2,251 yards and 13 touchdown passes and is within nine scoring tosses of matching Peyton Manning’s all-time mark of 539.

“Blanda was 48, and he was a quarterback in a different era, not a passing league like now,” said Andersen, who played until he was 47 and narrowly missed breaking Blanda’s record to be the oldest player to appear in a game when he retired in December 2008. “(Brady) is an amazing dude. I do admire someone disciplined to the craft, his well-being and personal health, and being a professional.

“I think Tom will stop when he doesn’t have any buddies on the team. (It) felt weird when I was 47 and had teammates who weren’t born when my career started. It’s a disconnect that’s there.”

Another 40-year-old, though, is breathing down his neck in touchdown passes as New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees – already the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards – is five touchdown passes behind Brady with 525 and showed no rust Sunday after a five-game absence due to a thumb injury. Brees threw for 373 yards and three scores as the Saints routed Arizona 31-9.

Staying in the NFC, Andersen also likes what he has seen from San Francisco. The 49ers are 7-0 after dismantling the Carolina Panthers 51-13 on Sunday, continuing their best start since opening the 1990 season with 10 victories. They totaled 232 rushing yards, and Jimmy Garoppolo was 18 of 22 for 175 yards and two TDs.

Andersen pointed to San Francisco’s offensive balance as a key component of its success, noting “the Niners are running the ball and have the best play-action game because of that. It frees up the next phase of their offense, and their defense is good. They are well-coached and have solid play-calling.”

The Hall of Famer also felt the 49ers do not have to absorb lessons by losing to take the next step of being championship-caliber because they did so last season when Garoppolo was sidelined with a torn ACL. A defense that forced an NFL-low seven turnovers last year has already more than doubled that total with 16 takeaways and turned them into 69 points.

“I think they lost plenty when they lost last year. They’ve already done that. They flipped a switch when they had to rebuild last year with their quarterback hurt,” he said. “Now they’re putting it all together … from win to win. They’ll lose a game here or there, but they have enough experience at the key positions where they can sustain a temporary setback where other teams don’t have enough.

“The 49ers are upticking big time. They’ll have a bye judging from the way they’re playing.”

No conversation with one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history would be complete without Andersen discussing shop. You could hear his pride in discussing Dallas Cowboys kicker Brett Maher, who has made field goals of 62 and 63 yards in back-to-back games while talking about the evolution the kicking game.

“Good for Maher because he was under a lot of pressure,” Andersen said. “The kicks gave him job security for another week or two. Anytime the owner says ‘We’re not talking about the kicker,’ they’re damn well talking about the kicker.

“The guys are better, younger, and stronger. (It) makes the 60 the new 50,” he added. “It would be interesting to see them award 4 points for a 60-yard field goal … a risk-reward to maybe try more.”

Andersen held the NFL record with 40 field goals of at least 50 yards, highlighted by a 60-yarder in 1991, when he retired. That was just the second 60-yard field goal in the NFL since Tom Dempsey’s then-record 63-yarder in 1970.

Fifteen kickers have followed suit, with Maher the only player with three field goals of 60 yards or longer.

“I had a 60-yarder in ‘91 and that was a big deal,” Andersen said. “We’ve been desensitized since the 50-yarder is regular. I had the most 50-yarders in the game and that’s been obliterated.

“It stings the ego,” he added with a laugh.

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