IF YOU'VE BEEN following the flight of field goals in the NFL this season, you can reach only one logical conclusion: Either the ball is juiced or the kickers are juiced.Kickers today are more accurate, with more distance, than ever.I've heard many explanations - better training regimens, better playing conditions, more turf fields, more domes, the wonders of mile-high Denver. But, hey, it's one thing to be kicking at altitude, it's another thing to be making field goals from Mars.I saw Rams rookie Greg Zuerlein make a 58-yarder against Seattle like he was picking up a quart of milk from 7-Eleven; maybe he's using Mark McGwire's old kicking shoe.Best I can tell, most NFL kickers this year once rode on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team with Lance Armstrong and company.Less than halfway through the 2012 season, look at this kicking rap sheet:
The 49ers' David Akers made a record-tying 63-yard field goal in the season opener. The Cardinals' Jay Feely made a 61-yarder to force overtime against the Bills. Vikings rookie Blair Walsh made a 55-yarder to force overtime against the Jaguars. The Browns' Phil Dawson made field goals of 51, 50 and 52 yards in one game. The Rams' Zuerlein made field goals of 58, 48 and 60 yards in one game.And - with apologies to Ravens and Redskins fans, many of whom are still having intermittent Billy Cundiff nightmares - have I mentioned that hardly anyone misses field goal attempts from anywhere anymore?Some fella named Ryan Succop was six-for-six in the Chiefs' 27-24 overtime victory over the Saints.Alex Henery - an individual nobody reading this column at this moment has ever heard of - is 35 for 39 in his season-and-a-half with the Eagles.Connor Barth - who, at this time last year, I believe, was assistant professor for Germanic studies at Shippensburg (Pa.) University - recently had a string of 25 successful field-goal attempts ended with the Buccaneers.
Mike Vanderjagt holds the NFL record for most consecutive field-goal attempts made, at 42.One day some guy will hit 75 straight and "SportsCenter" will yawn.Playing from 1946 to 1967 with the Cleveland Browns, Hall of Fame kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza made 54.9 percent of his field-goal attempts. Nowadays, 77 percent doesn't even get you into the top 50 all-time for accuracy.Whatever happened to all those wild-and-crazy kicking brothers - the Zendejas boys, the Gogolaks, the Bahrs, the Gramaticas - who only made two-thirds of their kicks?I'll tell you what happened to them - Martin and Bill Gramatica now run the Gramatica Kicking Camp in Florida, where they are producing the next generation of can't-miss robo-kickers; I assume they spend at least an hour instructing campers how not to tear an ACL while celebrating a first-half field goal.The numbers are eye-popping:In 1967, NFL kickers made 51 percent of their field goal attempts. In 2008 - a year in which Sebastian Janikowski attempted a 76-yard field goal; who knew then-Raiders coach Lane Kiffin was a visionary? - NFL kickers made a record 84.5 percent. This year that mark likely will be broken, and kickers are making two-thirds of their attempts from 50 yards and beyond.Maybe it's time to reconsider the field goal, as in GET RID OF IT.Does it make sense that you have to drive the length of the field to get six points but only have to make a couple of first downs to get three? We're almost to the point where all you have to do is cross midfield to have a shot at a field goal. In soccer, you don't see 'em get to midfield, stop the game and allow a guy to kick it uncontested between the posts for half-a-goal.By the way, in a high school game in the state of Washington Thursday night, senior Austin Rehkow kicked a 67-yard field goal as regulation expired in Central Valley's 62-55 overtime win over Shadle Park.The Redskins signed the kid this morning.Ask The SlouchQ. Is it true that there was some discussion about shutting Tim McCarver down before the end of the season? (T. Ponton; Columbia, Md.)A. If McCarver were ever held to a "word count," he might've gone 15 years between complete games.Q. A la A-Rod, have you ever tossed a poker chip with your phone number to an attractive woman? (Jeremy Simms; Chicago)A. That's actually how I first met Toni. But before calling me, she took the chip and doubled it at roulette.Q. The NHL now has canceled regular-season games through Nov. 1. What do you do now? (Mark Ralston; Rock Hill, S.C.)A. This is when my Strat-O-Matic hockey set pays for itself.Q. Is it true that Michael Vick was spotted in the bakery aisle at a Philadelphia grocery store carrying a loaf of bread like a football? (Ed Rose; Medford, Ore.)A. Pay the man, Shirley.You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!