Steelers kicker Jeff Reed on Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury: "He and I both lay our soul on the line."
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The loud clang carried throughout the arena, followed by groans from the home fans. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed another goal go in off the post.
One guy sitting in the stands watching the Penguins lose, 4-3, to Toronto Wednesday night knew the feeling. He has seen a couple hit the post, too, only Jeff Reed's field-goal tries bounced the other way and neither was good, including one in a three-point Steelers loss to Baltimore.
Oh, to be Fleury and Reed in Pittsburgh these days. They hear the scorn of fans for teams with high expectations. Fleury ranks 42nd among goalies in the 30-team NHL with a save percentage of .853 after four games. Reed is in a tie at the bottom of 33 kickers in the 32-team NFL with a field-goal percentage of .666 after four games.
"In a perfect world, he'd make every save and I'd make every kick and every kickoff would be a touchback," Reed said Thursday. "And then nobody could say a thing. Even then somebody's not going to be happy. It's like the president; you can't please everybody."
Both players have strong resumes in Pittsburgh. Reed has the highest field-goal success percentage in the NFL over the past three seasons. He also has two Super Bowl rings. Fleury helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup finals two consecutive years, winning it in 2009. He also owns a gold medal as a backup goalie for Canada's Olympic team.
They are among the most visible players for success/failure on their teams. Fleury either makes the save or he does not; Reed either makes the kick or he does not.
Sitting in the stands Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center with his sister, Reed could feel the fans' wrath for both of them. He heard the obvious discontent Penguins fans had for Fleury. And some of those fans were not bashful in telling Reed how they feel about him missing four of his 12 field-goal tries this season.
"I caught some heat," Reed said, then explained. "A lot of them say stuff like, 'What's wrong with you, man? You've already missed four.' It's sad but I'm used to it. If you have a great game, people tell you that, too. You're only as good as your last kick and that's always my philosophy, and some of the fans let you know, but there's also a lot that are real complimentary."
His last kick sailed wide left from 45 yards, his next-to-last kick bounced off the right post from 49 yards. Both misses came Oct. 3 in a 17-14 loss to Baltimore. It's only the sixth time in his career he has missed two in a game over nine seasons, but it has happened twice this season. His other misses? From 55 yards off the upright and from 40 yards, both in the opening overtime victory against Atlanta when he was 3 of 5 and made a 52-yarder, longest ever in Heinz Field.
Reed carried an .833 field-goal success rate into this season. He made 15 of 16 last season (.937) and 27 of 31 in 2008 (.871) and then was 5 for 5 in the postseason, including two in the team's Super Bowl victory.
By most measures, Reed is a phenomenal success, especially kicking outside on a grass home field in a Northern climate and in a Northern division with four outdoor stadiums. He has been criticized in the past for poor kickoffs, but those have improved this season after new special teams coach Al Everest worked with him.
Perhaps with Reed it has been the additional off-field stuff, minor things such as banging around a towel dispenser at a gas station and getting into an argument with police while they were arresting teammate Matt Spaeth for public urination.
There also were his complaints in camp over his inability to negotiate a long-term contract with the Steelers, who signed him to a one-year deal as their franchise player, paying him $2,184,000 this season.
Reed maintains he missed only one of the four kicks because of a mechanical error, when his plant foot was too far behind the ball on a 45-yard attempt that hooked wide.
"I'm doing the same thing," Reed said. "You can blame anything you want on it, whether it was something that happened off the field a year or two years ago or something I said in training camp.
"You can blame it on whatever you want to, but I know how to do this job or I wouldn't be here. And I wouldn't be here for nine years, I'll tell you that because this is a tough place to kick."
Tough, physically, because of the weather and winds at Heinz and, sometimes tough, mentally, as it also can be for the local pro goaltender.
"Obviously, it's a total different skill, but I think kickers and goalies are kind of in the same boat when it comes to that," Reed said. "You look at his stats, yeah, they had 14 shots and scored four goals for Toronto. ... I know him personally, so I would say it's not going to affect him at all.
"He and I both lay our soul on the line. You're getting paid a lot of money to do something, but you're doing what you love to do, and you don't want to lose that.
"I've heard people in the stands giving him trouble. I put things in perspective. I'm sure he's been at a football game or two and I've missed a kick and he's heard what people say. It's the camaraderie we all have.
"It just so happens in our positions people say, 'How come you don't stop that or how can you not make the kick?' That's the life we live, both of us."