NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans have a very proud tradition of successful kickers that dates to their former days as the Houston Oilers, with the memorable names since the 1990s going from Al Del Greco to Joe Nedney to Rob Bironas to Ryan Succop.
That's what makes this season so very surprising.
The Titans are on their third kicker of 2019 and already have missed eight field-goal attempts through 10 games to match the team's most since 2004; they also reached that dubious mark in 2001. They are last in the NFL this season when it comes to field-goal success, having converted just 46.7% of their 15 attempts.
While the Titans may be the worst, they're certainly not alone in their frustration. The New York Jets are on their fourth kicker, and teams across the league are struggling to put the ball between the uprights, with the 79.7% conversion rate on field goals through Week 11 the NFL's lowest number since 2003, when kickers hit 79.2% and missed 198 attempts, according to SportRadar.
"It's probably just one of those years," Titans special teams coach Craig Aukerman said. "Obviously, we're not up to what we expect, but I just think it's one of those years that it's just been down. I mean, it's hard kicking in the NFL. ... Now are they all professional athletes and they should make them? Yes, no doubt. But next year it'll probably go back up."
Kickers converted just 77.7% in 1999 — the season the NFL introduced the "K" ball to be used fresh out of the box to keep kickers and punters from softening them up. By 2004, kickers had gotten so used to the "K" ball, the conversion rate started climbing and reached 86.5% in 2013.
Even the sweet spot from 40 to 49 yards hasn't been a guarantee this season, with kickers converting only 136 of 196 for a 69.4% rate also matched in 2003.
Sometimes what went wrong is simple. Brandon McManus had a chance to pad the Denver Broncos' lead in the fourth quarter Sunday only to send a 43-yard try wide right in a 27-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
"All I know is I kicked the ground," McManus said, "and it wasn't even close."
Adam Vinatieri, the NFL's career leader in scoring and field goals, is still playing at 46 but has struggled to his worst season since 2003. He has missed five field-goal attempts and six extra-point tries this season, a downward trend that had the Indianapolis Colts trying out kickers last week.
Injuries are part of the problem.
Succop made a franchise-record 86.6% of kicks through his first five seasons with Tennessee and set an NFL record making 56 consecutive field goals inside 50 yards from 2014 to 2017. Offseason surgery on his kicking leg put him on injured reserve to start this season. The Titans tried out Cairo Santos and Cody Parkey, signing Santos with five years' experience kicking and with Tennessee his fifth NFL team.
Santos wound up costing Tennessee two games.
He missed a 45-yard field-goal attempt wide left in the fourth quarter of a 19-17 loss to Indianapolis in the second week and had three misses with a fourth blocked in 14-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 6. The Titans cut Santos a day later and brought in Parkey, who had been the Chicago Bears' kicker last season until he missed the potential winning field goal — the so-called "double doink" off an upright and the crossbar — in a wild-card playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Succop returned Nov. 2 and missed his first three field-goal attempts in a 30-20 loss at Carolina a day later.
"Obviously, I have to do a better job," Succop said," so that's what I'm doing."
Spending lots of money hasn't guaranteed success. The San Francisco 49ers have received an underwhelming return so far on their investment in Robbie Gould, who this past July was signed to a four-year, $19 million contract with $10.5 million guaranteed.
Buffalo gave a two-year extension to Stephen Hauschka in August, and now the kicker who had the NFL's longest active streak with 17 straight field goals made last season is 11-of-16, putting him at 68.8 %. He missed from 34 yards in a Nov. 10 loss to the Cleveland Browns — his first miss inside 39 yards since 2016 — and was wide left on a 53-yarder that would have forced overtime.
Hauschka doesn't have any answers on what's causing all the misses across the league.
"I have noticed," he said, "that there's been a lot."