Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka takes Buffalo by storm - The Buffalo News

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Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka takes Buffalo by storm

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There was no time to think. Only time to act.

One phone call had changed everything. And now, Lindsey and Stephen Hauschka were in a race against time — and their baby’s expected due date.

With bags packed, the young couple arrived at the airport eager to start planning their new life, and their baby’s arrival, across the country. But Mother Nature had intervened: Winter Storm Stella was in the process of battering the Buffalo Niagara region, and beyond, with blizzard-like conditions and excessive snowfall.

“We went to the airport. Found out our flight got canceled. And then we had to come home,” Lindsey Hauschka said, somewhat amused at being five months pregnant during their failed attempt to fly to Buffalo this past March.

“So we were just sitting in our offseason house in California, just looking at (the real estate website) Zillow, trying to see the houses we wanted to look at while we were there and just trying to get a feel for the whole city,” she said over the phone, as their son, Jones, now eight weeks old, cooed in the background.

“It was just a whirlwind.”

The couple now can see the humor in it all — the unpredictability of NFL life, the stress of moving 2,600 miles to a city neither of them had ever lived in, and the anxiety of being soon-to-be first-time parents. But changing teams and cities has proved to be just what the Hauschkas needed.

A leap of faith brought them to an organization in search of a new identity and a reliable kicker. And, so far, the former Seattle Seahawk has shown himself to be the Bills’ best free-agent signing.

The 32-year-old became the first Bills’ special-teamer to be named Player of the Week two weeks in a row and the first Bills player to earn the honor in back-to-back weeks since Hall of Famer Bruce Smith (1990).

Hauschka named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

Hauschka, who spent six seasons in Seattle before signing a three-year, $8.85 million deal to come to Buffalo, also became the first NFL kicker to make multiple 53-plus yard field goals in two straight games. He also has converted his last 11 field-goal attempts from 50-plus yards — one shy of the NFL record.

Just like that, “Hausch Money” has taken Buffalo by storm.

“Kicking’s about rhythm,” said the 10-year veteran, who is the fourth-most accurate kicker in NFL history (with an 87.3 career completion percentage on field goal attempts), behind only the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey (89.4), the Ravens’ Justin Tucker (89.1) and Stephen Gostkowski (87.5) of the Patriots.

“Every part of your life has to be in line to play well. To have balance in your life and to be able to be comfortable where you are and have a good relationship with all of your teammates and have a good culture, all of that goes hand and hand.”

While the success of the Bills offense rests on the shoulders of running back LeSean McCoy and quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Hauschka has emerged as the most dependable asset in Sean McDermott’s locker room. And in only four games, he’s managed to erase the memory of Dan Carpenter from the minds of many.  Not too long ago, this city had a love affair with him too. But Carpenter’s accuracy issues drew the ire of frustrated fans.

After four seasons — which included 10 missed field goals and 11 extra-point misfires between 2015 and 2016 — Carpenter was released in March 2017.

In a sport with little margin for error, one miss can change the course of a kicker’s career. That was true for Carpenter, who converted only 76 percent of his field-goal attempts for the Bills last season.

But accuracy sometimes comes at a high price. And the Bills were willing to pay.

Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka made field goals of 24 yards, 56 yards and 55 yards against the Atlanta Falcons. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

GO WHERE YOU’RE WANTED

The phone call came out of nowhere.

Hauschka had assumed he’d be an afterthought in the flurry of free agency activity. But there the Bills were, on the other end of the line, making their best pitch to get one of the league's best kickers to come to New York.

“Buffalo called the very first day of free agency and made a strong offer and we couldn’t really let it go,” he said Thursday evening from the couple’s Orchard Park home.

Hauschka went back to Seattle with the offer, but Seahawks General Manager John Schneider was prepared to move on. “They didn’t want to match it or anything like that, so we ended up here,” said Hauschka, who was a part of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII championship team. “It happened really quickly. It really wasn’t a hard decision for us at all.”

The Bills had shown how much they valued him. And it made all the difference. “When a team really wants you, they’ll make things happen,” said Hauschka, who had brief stints with other NFL clubs before setting up roots in Seattle in 2011. “And usually where you’re wanted the most is probably the best place for you too.”

In four games, he has already eased the anxiety of a fan base accustomed to disappointment.

Since 2014, nine Bills games have been decided by three or fewer points. They lost five of them.

“We’ve been here over the years and had drives where we needed kicks and they missed, and it would have helped us to win games,” LeSean McCoy said. “This year, we have a kicker and he’s executing for us, getting us out of long drives and bailing us out, but you need that. I think good teams have a good kicking game.”

Hauschka totaled 14 points to pace them to a 26-16 win over the then-undefeated Denver Broncos, connecting on all four of his field-goal attempts to became the first Bills kicker to hit two 53-plus yard field goals in the same game. He also nailed both of his extra points to cap his perfect afternoon. He followed up that impressive performance with 11 points against the Falcons last week, including 55- and 56-yard fourth-quarter field goals to propel Buffalo to a 23-17 upset in Atlanta.

This is why the Bills brought him here.

He was targeted because of his reliability, his unwavering confidence and his extreme focus. Fair or not, the standard for NFL kickers is 100 percent accuracy.

“There’s only a few plays that you get a game and you’re not sure when they’re going to be or if you’re even going to get them,” said Hauschka, who made national headlines last month when he shared his feelings on racial inequality with The Buffalo News. “So, as a kicker, I’m learning that it’s more about controlling your mindset, staying in the game and being ready for anything.”

Kimberley A. Martin: Stephen Hauschka on racial equality, a cause close to his heart

‘HAUSCH MONEY’

What he didn’t anticipate was being embraced so quickly by Bills faithful.

In a locker room littered with large personalities, Hauschka is a low-key fixture who’d easily be overlooked if not for his 6-foot-4 frame. But on the field is where he shines brightest.

He’s 8 of 9 overall on field-goal attempts in 2017 and 4-for-4 from 50 yards or more.

But the spotlight isn’t what he craves.

While he acknowledged the recognition is “awesome,” Hauschka was quick to downplay his importance on the Bills’ 53-man roster. “I realize that I’m just one small part of the team,” he said. “The last couple weeks we’ve needed some field goals, and other weeks I’m sure will be a different story and it will be a different player that everybody’s talking about.”

Right now, he’s the guy fans are buzzing about. But the Needham, Mass., native refuses to dwell on his newfound attention.

“Those aren’t things that I focus on. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m going to try to win the city over,’” Hauschka said with a chuckle. “I just try to go to work every single day and do my best. I know good things happen when you put everything into your job.”

His wife, however, has gotten a kick out of the fan interest in her husband. “People tend to not buy the kicker’s jersey and by the end of our six years in Seattle, I’d go to the stadium and see tons of Hauschka jerseys. And it wasn’t people we knew,” Lindsey Hauschka said with a laugh. “I like how some of the stuff has kind of carried over here. Because the whole ‘Hausch Money’ thing started in Seattle, organically through the fans. It’s fun to see people get excited and, obviously, I’m so proud of Steve’s success here thus far.”

Still, Hauschka’s not a household name. At least not yet.

His “Hausch Money” moniker, however, is picking up steam inside the facility. Even McDermott is considering adopting it full-time.

Joked the coach: “If he keeps kicking like that, I will.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

After almost a decade, the debate still rages on.

Is it "Stephen" or "Steven"?

Everything from Wikipedia, to ProFootballReference.com, to various ESPN and NFL.com articles misspell Hauschka’s first name. And after all these years, the kicker has come to accept the slight.

The mistake can be traced back to his college days at North Carolina State, when he was a walk-on on a team with four other kickers on the roster. Someone wrote his name as “Steven” and Hauschka never set the record straight. Years later, fans, reporters, and even statistical websites can’t get it right.

“I didn’t want to rock the boat,” said Hauschka, who attended Middlebury College in Vermont before using his final year of eligibility at N.C. State. “I was focused on kicking.”

After bouncing around a few cities early in his career, he finally feels settled and at home here in Buffalo.

Bills special teams coach Danny Crossman became familiar with Hauschka during the kicker’s brief stint in Detroit in 2010. Even then, Hauschka’s talent was obvious. “There was no doubt in my mind that Stephen had the skills and the ability, the mental and physical makeup to be a successful kicker in this league,” the coordinator said this past offseason. “And we here we are seven years later and we’ve seen that.”

The Bills couldn’t have predicted Hauschka would be this successful, this early. But they always were confident in his leg.

“It is really good to see,” McDermott said. “And that’s a guy that spent a long time in one place, and maybe totally wasn’t in their plans like a lot of us in this building. That is what our team is all about. Guys that embrace that underdog role.”

Since last season, Hauschka has made 11 straight field-goal attempts from 50-yards plus. And if he nails his next one, possibly Sunday in Cincinnati, he’ll tie the NFL record currently held by Blair Walsh (2012-13), his current replacement in Seattle, Robbie Gould (2010-13), Justin Tucker (2015-16) and Matt Prater (2015-17).

“There is pressure to maintain that standard of, if not perfect, just almost perfect,” Hauschka said. “And that’s the nature of being a kicker nowadays. I think it’s why you see a lot of turnover at the position because it’s a difficult thing to be perfect. There’s a lot of factors going on, things that fans don’t understand, across all positions. We’re human beings and it’s hard to be perfect. But we’re striving.”

Kicking is about rhythm. And here in Buffalo, Hauschka has finally found his groove again.

“It was difficult at the beginning to move across the country those first few weeks,” he said. “But along with that was a lot of excitement. And now that we’re settled, we’re loving it here.”

Kimberley A. Martin: Stephen Hauschka on racial equality, a cause close to his heart

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