EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Kai Forbath was planning to move into an apartment in New Orleans the week of the 2016 season opener, when a call from the Saints quickly turned his day upside down.
The players were off from practice, so Forbath had no doubt about why he'd been summoned to team headquarters five days before the first game.
Coach Sean Payton delivered the disappointing news that the Saints had decided to sign rookie Wil Lutz and release Forbath to make room.
Saints punter Thomas Morstead, who has been the holder for both of them, recalled Lutz making every kick in his tryout the day before the move was made.
“He came in and just killed his workout,” Morstead said, “and if Coach Payton gets a gut feeling on something, he'll trust himself over what anybody thinks.”
Lutz, who spent the 2016 preseason with Baltimore after coming out of Georgia State, has done well enough to match Payton's hunch.
He finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 and seventh in his second season. Lutz has missed his share, ranking 13th in the league this season in field goal accuracy (86.1 percent) and 19th as a rookie (82.4), but there he was last weekend knocking a 57-yard kick through the uprights late in the third quarter of the wild-card round playoff game.
“You've got to feel confident, and confidence comes from behavior demonstrated,” Payton said.
That field goal helped the Saints hold off Carolina's late surge and hang on for a 31-26 victory that sent them to the divisional round to play at Minnesota on Sunday.
That's where the 30-year-old Forbath has been since the middle of last season, when the Vikings cut Blair Walsh and turned to him to stabilize this critical specialty role that can determine whether or not a team reaches the Super Bowl.
Mike Zimmer, who grew weary of unreliable kickers, was asked about his confidence in Forbath.
“Good,” he said. “We've got the crystal ball on our side.”
Forbath made all 15 of his field-goal tries in 2016 and missed only one 3-pointer over the first nine games of 2017, until tailing off a bit down the stretch. Forbath has missed eight extra points in 23 games for the Vikings, and his touchback rate (44 of 88, 50 percent) lagged behind Lutz (54 of 98, 61.7 percent), but he won't have to carry the burden of that career-defining wide left into the most important game of his life that Walsh would have.
“You can't try to put extra pressure on it,” said Forbath, the Lou Groza Award winner at UCLA as a junior in 2009. “That's when bad things happen.”