Starkey: Reed release made sense

| Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010

Jeff Reed might have been the worst kicker in the NFL this season.

As such, it really doesn't matter if his silly postgame comments Sunday got him fired. Doesn't matter how much his off-field antics might have prompted the move. His lousy on-field performance justified it — and the situation appeared to be going from bad to hideous.

No doubt, the man affectionately known as "Skippy" could regain his form of the previous three seasons — when he was the NFL's most accurate kicker — with a new team. He also might have returned to form in a Steelers uniform next season, had he re-signed.

But how, exactly, would that have helped Steelers coach Mike Tomlin this Sunday, in a critical conference game against the Oakland Raiders?

Tomlin needed the old Reed right now, a prospect that seemed highly unlikely.

The coach wouldn't say precisely why Reed was fired. We don't know how much director of football operations Kevin Colbert and/or team president Art Rooney II might have pushed for the change. We know this much, though: Steelers management believed that whatever risk they took in signing new kicker Shaun Suisham — and there is plenty — did not compare to the risk of keeping Reed and hoping he would suddenly rise from rock bottom.

Consider the facts, and keep in mind that kickers, like closers in baseball, sometimes fall off the cliff for a season.

Reed was in mid-freefall. He was ranked 32nd in field-goal percentage, which would be fine in a 64-team league; not so much in a 32-team league. He was 0 for 4 from 40-49 yards, while the rest of the NFL's kickers are connecting from that range at a rate of 73.6 percent (106 for 144).

Reed's malfunctions easily could have contributed to the Steelers sitting at 4-5 instead of 6-3. He missed a potential game-winning, 40-yarder with 38 seconds left in regulation of the season-opener before the Steelers bailed him out in overtime. He missed two field goals (49 and 45 yards) in a three-point loss to division rival Baltimore. He missed a 46-yarder two weeks ago that could have clinched the Bengals game but instead forced the Steelers to hold on with a late defensive stand.

And Sunday night against the Patriots, Reed, who had been perfect from inside 40 yards, botched a 26-yard attempt.

One defense of Reed is that most of his misses were from 45 yards or longer. Well, guess what• Kickers are making those fairly regularly these days. Shoot, they're hitting from beyond 50 yards at a rate of nearly 55 percent this season. Reed's kickoffs, while slightly improved, didn't help his case.

Meanwhile, his bitter postgame comments Sunday, a virtual flash flood of excuses, did not exactly hint of a man ready to reverse his troubles. If anything, the outburst gave Steelers brass another reason to wonder if Reed was mentally salvageable this season.

It's too bad, really, because Reed was a great kicker for most of his career here. He always struck me as a decent person, as well. Suisham attested to that Wednesday, remembering how well Reed treated him at Steelers training camp in 2005.

"I hold Jeff in very high regard," Suisham said.

Two weeks ago, Reed admitted he was struggling to cope with his misses.

"I'm trying to bring a more positive attitude, because I get really down on myself," he said. "These guys help me with it. Tomlin does, too. Nobody's like, 'Oh, Jeff's going out there, he's going to miss.' "

Used to be Reed hardly ever missed. That changed, dramatically, this season. We'll see if Suisham provides an upgrade.

The hard truth is that he couldn't do much worse.

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