Like most NFL kickers, Dan Bailey is a perfectionist.
A former Lou Groza winner from Oklahoma State, Bailey made all but two field goals last season with the Dallas Cowboys. Both misses were beyond 50 yards.
“My expectation is to make every one,” Bailey said in a telephone interview with The Oklahoman. “It's kind of like golf. You can go out and shoot the best round of your life but there will always be that putt you could have made or a shot that got away even if it didn't kill your round.
“There are some things you wish you could have back and do over. Last year was a good year but there's definitely room to improve. I missed two kicks. I'll do my best this year not to miss any. That's my goal.”
Since he joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent two years ago, Bailey ranks third in the NFL in field goal percentage. He's converted nearly 90 percent of his field goal attempts.
The stat that jumps out is how reliable Bailey has been inside 47 yards. Remarkably, Bailey has missed only one kick in two seasons. From 46 yards or closer, Bailey is 41-of-42 with Dallas.
“You could make a compelling argument he does his job as well as anybody does on this team,” coach Jason Garrett told the Dallas Morning News. “He's about as reliable a guy as I've been around kicking the football.
“He's about as professional a guy as I've been around. He's an outstanding athlete and is as cool as they come. He's made some big kicks for us. We are lucky to have him.”
The clutch factor is what sets Bailey apart.
Bailey's only miss inside 47 yards was his second game, a 21-yard chip shot two years ago at San Francisco. Bailey, though, nailed a 48-yarder with :00 left to tie the game, then won it in overtime.
Rafael Septien, who played nine seasons in Dallas, set the franchise record for game-winning field goals. Seven. Bailey has tied Septien's mark in two seasons.
Bailey has booted four overtime game-winners. In two of those wins, he nailed kicks late in regulation to force overtime. Bailey also has kicked two last-second, game-winners.
“It's a lot of fun. That's what you dream about,” Bailey said. “It's the pinnacle.”
Bailey was 29-of-31 last season. His two misses were a 51-yard kick against Baltimore and 54-yarder against Atlanta.
Some blamed the miss against the Ravens on Garrett and the offense. After recovering an onside kick, the Cowboys advanced to the 34-yard line but inexplicably allowed 20 seconds to run off the clock.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant briefly argued with an official. As precious seconds ticked off the clock, Garrett eventually called timeout with :06 left. It forced Bailey to attempt a win-or-lose 51-yarder instead of running another play to get Bailey into his automatic range. His kick sailed wide left.
Distance isn't an issue for Bailey. He's 5-of-9 on 50-yard attempts, 13-of-19 on attempts 45 yards or longer.
“For some reason the long kicks get a little more emphasis, not just from fans, but players and coaches,” Bailey said. “They're different than a 30-yarder in the second quarter but I try to approach each kick the same. I try to approach each kick like it's an extra point.”
At OSU, the Southwest Covenant product was 57-of-72 on field goals and 199-of-201 on PATs. He blossomed his senior year, converting 27-of-31 field goals.
After Bailey won an open competition in Dallas his rookie season, he signed a three-year $1.4 million deal that pays him $555,000 this season.
Bailey will be a restricted free agent this season and his future with the team is uncertain.
“The humbling thing about this league at any position is you know in the back of your head there are guys out there that want your job,” Bailey said. “It's a business. It's all about production. You have to do everything you can on and off the field.
“I'd love to play 10 or 15 years if I can, hopefully with the Dallas Cowboys. But just because it's my contract year doesn't make a difference. My mentality is to make every kick. All the other stuff is secondary. I just try to go out, have fun and try to help this team win games.”
The Cowboys have underachieved in recent years. Quarterback Tony Romo at times can produce eye-popping stats but his resume lacks playoff credentials. Romo often is criticized for mistakes he's made late in games.
“We don't pay attention to any of that,” Bailey said. “We're with him every day. He's a good leader, a down-to-earth guy. He's a great competitor who wants to win. He has a lot of experience. He's very knowledgeable. He's a great quarterback.
“The bottom line is we've been an 8-8 team the past two years. We've done some good things but there are things we can improve on, little things like penalties that can bite you. Everybody feels good. We're excited about what we can accomplish this season.”
If the Cowboys need a last-minute, game-winning field goal, Bailey is confident he can deliver like he's done seven times his first two seasons.
“Those situations have come up a lot,” Bailey said. “If it happens again, fortunately I've been there before. Those are the ones you dream about. As a kicker, you live for those moments. But my goal is to make every kick.”