What a difference a year makes.
At this time a year ago, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Steelers was what the heck was going on with Chris Boswell?
The previously steady placekicker had already missed six kicks in the first six games, including a potential game-winner in overtime at Cleveland in the opener. Considering he had missed just 13 kicks in his previous three seasons, it was a shocking turn of events. And Boswell never really recovered from his early slump, ending 2018 with 12 missed kicks, seven on field goals and five on PATs. Art Rooney II would cite it as a reason the Steelers missed the playoffs at 9-6-1.
The Steelers stuck with Boswell before he finally ended up on IR in Week 17 with a groin injury. But nobody -- including Boswell -- was blaming an injury for Boswell's struggles.
"Last year, he missed a couple of kicks but from my point of view, being with him all of the time, he wasn’t off," punter and placeholder Jordan Berry told me of Boswell. "They just all kind of happened in a condensed little period. All of sudden, it made it look worse than it was. This year, he’s just sliding them all right in. It’s going well."
That's most certainly been the case. Boswell has made all 11 of his field goal attempts this season while also converting all 12 of his PAT attempts. He's one of just four kickers in the league -- the Ravens' Justin Tucker, Jaguars' Josh Lambo and Eagles' Jake Elliott are the others -- who entered Week 7 having made all of their kicks this season.
Boswell, who entered the 2018 season coming off a Pro Bowl year and having made 93.4 percent of his kicks -- field goals and PATs -- certainly looks automatic again.
"He’s done a good job, he really has," special teams coordinator Danny Smith told me. "He’s in tune, making those kicks. We had a question whether a guy can revive his career like that, but he’s done a hell of a job. I’m really proud of him. Right now, he’s playing really good."
And there's no reason to believe that will change.
As things now look, Boswell's 2018 season was the outlier. He's back to being the kicker he was in his first three seasons, the guy who had four game-winning kicks in 2017, the one the Steelers felt so good about they gave him a 4-year, $16.8-million contract prior to last season.
It looked like a good deal at the time. But as soon as he started missing kicks, some began questioning whether he had "gotten fat" on the big contract and wasn't trying as hard. He received hate mail and was attacked on social media. It got pretty ugly. Boswell went into a shell in which he currently remains. He was always guarded when he spoke. But he's taken that to another level.
At the same time, he's also taken his game to another level. Not only is he making his kicks this season, his leg looks stronger.
"He’s worked, put it that way," Smith said. "Usually, when you work, it pays off. He back to where he was and I’m really proud of him."
The Steelers brought in other kickers in the offseason to challenge Boswell just in case that didn't happen. Matthew McCrane, who was brought in to kick in the regular season finale when Boswell was placed on injured reserve, was kept in the offseason until he was replaced by rookie Matthew Wright.
The idea was to push Boswell. But nobody was pushing him more than he was pushing himself. He continually said the competition was against himself. He had to keep pushing. It looks like it worked.
Now, when he trots out onto the field, his teammates are as confident the ball is going to go through the uprights as he is. He's automatic.
"You can never think that way, but it’s definitely in the back of your head, ‘Yeah, he’s going to make this,’ whenever you’re in range," Berry said. "It’s definitely good to have that."
It's a shame Boswell had to go through what he did last season, but he seems to have come through it better than ever. It won't erase the sting he felt from being attacked the way he was on social media by some "fans."
Boswell wasn't good in 2018. That is undeniable. But it wasn't because he didn't care after signing a new contact -- as some suggested. He had a bad stretch. It happens.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, it happened in a season in which they needed him to be better.
To continue reading, log into your account: