Stephen Hauschka is standing for about a 25-minute conversation, which probably isn’t the best idea for someone still feeling pain from a large bruise on his right hip. Periodically, he has to stretch, bending from side to side while leaning forward slightly.
“Kickers are fine-tuned athletes,” he said. Then, he caught himself.
“I don't know if we’re athletes,” Hauschka said, flashing a grin after a Buffalo Bills practice this week. “But we're fine-tuned performers and, yeah, a big contusion on my hip is going to affect that fine-tuning. I definitely notice it, I feel it, but I'm learning to play through it. And I'm going to be fine with it. It’s something that might not clear out until after the season. We'll see.”
Hauschka is a big believer in finding lessons in everything he experiences, good or bad. Nearing the end of his second season with the Bills and his 11th in the NFL, he has made some notable additions to his life and football education, including one to which he had minimal exposure before the Bills’ Dec. 9 game against the New York Jets at New Era Field.
“I have a lot of empathy and respect for all my teammates who get hit, and then still go out there,” Hauschka said. “This is the norm for them, so it's just a little dose of what they deal with all the time. The other thing is, anytime you're out there on the field, you’ve got to be, I guess, ready. Guys are getting paid to make hits, so anytime you're out there, you can take a hit, I guess.”
For Hauschka, that time came just before halftime of the Bills’ 27-23 loss against the Jets. After Terrence Brooks recovered the ball on a blocked field-goal attempt, some Bills players began chasing after him. Hauschka was far from the play, but that didn’t stop Henry Anderson from emerging from behind him to deliver a shot with his right shoulder that took the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Hauschka off his feet and down on his right hip. Hard.
No penalty was called, although the NFL later fined Anderson a reported $10,026. The injury prevented Hauschka from driving the ball deep on kickoffs, and also played a role in a bad miss on a 54-yard field-goal try in the fourth quarter.
Sean McDermott said there was “no place in football” for what Anderson did. Hauschka wouldn’t echo his coach’s criticism of Anderson, who during a podcast with former NFL punter Pat McAfee called the hit a “totally legal and fair play.”
“It's just baggage and it's just going to weigh on me,” said Hauschka, who in 14 games has connected on 83.3 percent of his field-goal attempts and all put one of his 21 extra-point tries. “So I made a conscious choice to just let go of that stuff that I can't control and then focus on what I can control and contribute to the team as much as I can every single week.
"At the end of the day, I'm in control of what I think, what I feel and so anything that somebody does like that, even if it's kind of unfair, I'm still going to be myself, and I'm not going to let something like that affect me.”
In the latest “One-on-One Coverage,” Hauschka spent some time with The Buffalo News talking about his season; being out of the playoffs for the first time in a long while; the contrasting motivational tactics of McDermott and Hauschka’s previous coach, Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks; and the struggles of the Bills’ special teams.
Buffalo News: What about your wife, Lindsey, taking to Twitter to call out Anderson and McAfee for making light of the hit during the podcast. She posted, "This is everything that's wrong with football. Laughing about seriously injuring another human being is disgusting.”
Stephen Hauschka: I love that she's protective of me. It's not something that I rely on, but it is something that when she feels the need to speak up about something, she does and I think that's healthy. We trust each other. There's certain things that I wouldn't want her to say and she wouldn't want to say, and we have a good trust about that.
She let go of it, too, later in the week. I think it was just a way for her to kind of vent her stuff. I'm glad she has an outlet like that that she can she can speak freely.
BN: How did you feel about Anderson calling the play “totally legal and fair?”
SH: I think he put himself in a situation there that’s hard to get out of. He put himself in a box there.
BN: You were in the playoffs for five of your six seasons with the Seahawks and last year, your first with the Bills. How strange is it to not be heading for the postseason?
SH: Not being in the playoffs is interesting. But it really is a good opportunity for the team to focus on what we can control. And that's playing good football. And that's all this team's focused on right now, is playing good football, trying to build for next year. That's a really valuable opportunity for a team to take advantage of, because this team can take some risks and put some guys out there and evaluate and see how things gel and, really, just go play free, which is how you play good football anyway.
I think you're seeing that from our quarterback. It's awesome to watch Josh Allen develop and just go play. He's going to make mistakes, but he's also going to learn and get better. We've got a young team, and that's what you want from all these guys. You want them to be out there, you want them to build up confidence, make mistakes, learn from them, and keep getting better every single week.
BN: You’ve drawn so much from the Seattle experience. How much of that have you been able to impart on your teammates since you've been here?
SH: That was a unique culture there and to try to rebuild that here would be a mistake, because it's unique and it works there in that situation with Coach Carroll. It's really a reflection of Coach Carroll. This is a different team, this is a different city, it's a different head coach, different players. What I see happening here, though, is it's genuine. Guys really care about the program, guys really are working hard. It’s an enjoyable place to work. The players are building confidence and they're comfortable at practice.
A lot of places in the league, guys can feel miserable pretty quickly. Here, guys are walking around with positive energy and working hard at their craft. That's really important and that's something that gets overlooked a lot.
There's so many good things going on in this building right now and I think the results are going to come. You hope sooner rather than later, but, really, I'm impressed with a lot of stuff, a lot of the directions they've moved things in the last couple years here. And I think it has to eventually shake out into wins and losses. I think it's just a matter of time.
BN: As different as Pete Carroll and Sean McDermott might be in their approaches, they both use positive reinforcement to get their messages across.
SH: It's a different time now. These players coming out now, that are 20-21, they're different than the players were 10 years ago. They want to be motivated in different ways than people did 10-15 years ago. It's not the old-school mentality now where you can just grind people down and expect them to respond.
It's a different league now. The players want to be supported by their coaches. They want to be in a place where it's fun to work and work on their craft and be encouraged for that. Coach McDermott knows that and he's worked really hard to create an environment where the guys feel comfortable and feel confident and can go play fast.
BN: How encouraging is it that your production through 14 games is similar to what you had during a strong first season with the Bills?
SH: I still want to finish strong, but I feel like I'm right on track, right where I want to be. I’m kicking the ball really well. Like I said, some things kind of out of my control that I think led to a performance not as good as I'd like. But those are things you learn from and move on from and they make me a stronger kicker.
You kind of just have to roll with it and accept it. It's not always the easiest thing to accept that, hey, there’s some missed kicks and some interesting circumstances, too, for all those kicks. But at the same time, I still expect to make everything out there. Regardless of the situation, I still believe I can. They're just little tests, here and there, and you’ve got to learn from them and grow from them.
BN: What has it been like to continue kicking with your injured hip?
SH: Well, the team's been super supportive and I have a good awareness of my body, of what it can and can't do. Last week was a push to get ready for that (Detroit) game. It wasn't guaranteed I was going to be able to play in that last game. And the training staff here was super helpful and I was able to get some great therapy throughout the week and get ready for this this past game.
That was a learning experience, too, just being able to go out there and play without things being perfect. I work so much at my craft throughout the whole week, I really have an ability to kind of dial in my body and how it feels every week. To go into a game when you feel less than a hundred percent is a unique challenge in itself and to still be able to go out there and make kicks and help the team is great. Something that I'm going to take away from this as a great learning experience is I can do this at a high level even when I don't feel a hundred percent.
BN: How challenging has it been to work with a variety of holders because of all the changes at punter? You had your incumbent, Colton Schmidt, during the preseason, rookie Corey Bojorquez for the first eight games of the regular season, Schmidt for three games, and Matt Darr for the last three.
SH: And Jon Ryan for a little bit in the offseason. It takes a few weeks to get dialed in with a new holder, because they all hold the ball in unique ways. Each kicker wants the ball held a little differently, too, so in order to get in the rhythm, that takes a few weeks. So having gone through that three times this season has been a great learning experience for me.
It’s something that you don't really want to have to do, but the team had to make some moves there, and they're trying to do the best they can at that position. I understand, even though it affects me, it might be in the best interest of the team. So I just try to, once again, not judge it. I accept it and then kind of move on and do the best that I can, because I can't control the decisions they make up there.
BN: Exactly how does the change in holders impact the kicking process?
SH: Everything happens in 1.3 seconds, so the timing of everything matters a lot. With a new holder, there's all these subtleties about the cadence of it, about when he calls for the ball, when it comes back. And then the whole visual field that I'm looking at is different with a different holder, because he might catch the ball a little differently. It's not something that you can pinpoint or even try to pinpoint, but the whole visual field’s different. Then, when he puts the ball down and I see his hands and stuff, that's different with each holder. And how they put the ball down, how it's leaned. I like the ball leaning like an inch to the right and a little bit forward.
Other kickers want it differently, so depending on where the holders were working before, they've probably got loaded into their muscle memory how the kicker they worked with before wanted the ball held. Then, it's a matter of me matching up to how the ball’s being held, and it's probably not going to be the way I want it for like three, four weeks, because it just takes a little bit of time to get that to get that dialed in. And then on top of that, I’ve got to trust that everything's there even if it looks different and I’ve got to match my foot up to the ball, how he's holding it. It’s a little bit of give and take.
BN: What do you do to prepare yourself mentally for a game?
SH: Sometimes, it is all about getting my mind right. Just being thankful for every opportunity I get out there, because at the end of the day, it is a game and playing this game brings up different circumstances, different challenges in my life. And it's not always easy to work through them. But every single one of these challenges that happens in a game helps me be a better father, helps me be a better husband, and, I think, a better person myself. It's all these different challenges that test you, test your character, and test your ability to let go of all this stuff and kind of own your own mindset rather than letting all the situations that you're involved in dictate that.
Earlier in my career, things that happened negatively on the field used to get me down. But now I've learned to use those situations just on how to grow in life in general, because those are great life lessons every time I’m involved in something like that. For most people's lives, they'll have a situation where something happens, it's completely out of their control, affects them a lot, and you have two choices. You can hold onto that energy, let it fester, and maybe not be your best for a while or you can let go of that, realize that there's only certain things you can control and then move on from that and be your best self.
I care so much about my job that it's really hard to do that sometimes. But having a great mindset like that is what, I think, keeps me playing at a high level and it keeps me wanting more.
BN: Your special teams have struggled badly. What’s your take on all that has gone wrong and how much can be done in these final two weeks to help your group finish on a high note?
SH: I think, for our special teams this year, we haven't performed consistently like we’d like and helped out our team consistently. We’ve had our moments where we've done some good things, but there has been some turnover at those spots. If you look at our coverage teams, it's a lot different roster than it was in training camp and even the early part of season. It's hard to get guys up to speed when you have turnover like that.
And that's just part of the evolution of this team. We're in a stage right now where we're trying to grow and get better for the future rather than right now. I think that's where special teams gets affected the most. If you're so focused on right now, you might have some different players out there.
I think a lot of it, too, is just this team finding an identity on the field. And it's all the different phases. I think the defense has shown over the last couple years that they have an identity, I think they feel that and the whole team feels it. And I think it's a challenge right now. The next development stage for this team is for this special teams unit and for this offense to really find their identity. Once again, those are things that take time and we're working towards it.