Kicking game failed the Buffalo Bills too often during 2023 season


Staff member

The Buffalo Bills had a kicking problem in 2023.

That was true for both punter Sam Martin and kicker Tyler Bass, who had poor statistical seasons.

Martin ranked 26th out of 32 qualified punters in net average at 39.9 yards. He was 21st in punts placed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line with 24. Even taking into account the Bills’ strong offense means Martin punts less – his 51 attempts tied for 29th in the league and were nearly half of the NFL’s league leader, the Jets’ Thomas Morstead, who had 99 – he still had a down season.

Martin’s average hang time, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus, was just 4.20 seconds, which ranked 28th out of the 30 punters who had at least 50 attempts during the 2023 season. Partly because of that poor hang time, the Bills allowed 12.6 yards per punt return, including the playoffs, which ranked as the fourth worst in the NFL.

Bass, meanwhile, started the season on a heater, making his first nine field goals and 18 extra points through the first five weeks. From there, however, things got worse. While he remained reliable on extra points, missing just one in the regular season and playoffs (that came during a 32-6 win over the Jets), his field goal accuracy plummeted. From Week 6 through the Bills’ two playoff games, Bass went just 17 of 25 on field goals – a conversion rate of 68%. That’s woefully low for an NFL kicker. Of the 30 kickers who attempted at least 23 field goals in the regular season, Bass’ overall conversion rate of 82.8% ranked 22nd.

“I am confident in Tyler. I’ll start there and I’ll end there, but in between those two … yes, there were some kicks we need to make, no doubt about it,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said last month after they were eliminated by the Chiefs in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. “He knows that, and there’s no one that works harder at it than he does and takes more pride in the work that he puts in and his job to perform at the highest levels that he can for the team and his teammates. He’s deeply invested in his teammates and this team, and I’m very confident that he’s going to do what’s necessary this offseason to get himself just right.”

The Bills had better hope that’s the case. General manager Brandon Beane signed Bass to a contract extension last year. He’s scheduled to count $4.42 million against the cap in 2024, and the Bills would actually lose cap space if they were to cut Bass before June 1.

“He’s done a lot of good things. He’s won games. He’s tied games,” Beane said. “He’s made big kicks for us.”

The season ended on a down note for both Martin and Bass – for different reasons. Martin punted twice against the Chiefs in the playoffs and averaged just 32.0 net yards per attempt, but it was clear he was playing hurt after suffering a hamstring injury the week before against the Steelers. The decision to even have him on the field was questionable.

Martin is scheduled to count $2.05 million against the cap in 2024. The Bills can save $1.25 million of that if they release him before March 18, leaving behind $800,000 in dead money. That would be roughly the cost to replace Martin on the roster, perhaps with a rookie.

Bass, on the other hand, missed a 44-yard field goal wide right with less than 2 minutes left that would have tied the AFC divisional game against the Chiefs.

The reaction to that miss by the fan base was both disgusting and uplifting. Bass deleted his social media accounts in the days that followed the game because he allegedly was receiving death threats. In response, fans rallied behind him and donated more than $340,000 to the Ten Lives Club, a cat rescue center that Bass has supported.

“The toughest moments teach you the best lessons in life,” Bass posted on social media in recent days after restoring his account. “The love and support shown from my teammates, Bills Mafia, and (Ten Lives Club) is something I will never forget and always cherish! Grateful for another season – see you for year 5!”

Beane said one kick doesn’t change how he views Bass.

“I gave him a hug after the game and just told him, listen, I know he wants that kick back more than anybody,” the GM said. “I think you saw many guys walk up to him, either on the field or in the locker room. I don’t think there’s a player or staff member that I’ve heard that doubts Tyler Bass. He did come up and he saw me yesterday, we had a nice closed-door conversation. If he could change anything, it would be that we’re still playing so he could go back out there and redeem himself.

“I hate that that’s the kick he’s got to live with. There’s no games until next September. He is a relentless worker, it means a lot to him. I would hope that fans or whoever, if someone’s giving him a hard time that would take his career and take how hard he works and how much his teammates and this organization believes in him. He’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing going forward. There’s no wavering of support in this building, or definitely from Sean or myself.”

That’s a strong statement. It’s not just one kick that Bass missed, though. In the playoffs, he was just 2 of 5 on field goals. His contract is such that it’s hard to imagine the Bills having a different kicker next year, but Beane should at least give consideration to signing a rookie undrafted free agent to bring to training camp. It would still be Bass’ job to lose, but at least there would be a message sent that every job is up for grabs.

“Just continuing to put our belief in him and our confidence in him and be there for him,” long snapper Reid Ferguson said. “That starts with me giving the holder a good snap and T-Bass trusting Sam to be on it every time, giving him a good hold. That’s the biggest part of it when you’re talking about the field goal stuff. … Just continuing to be there for him, be confident in him. We all are. Keeping that belief in him and knowing that he can get the job done.”