Getting the boot: Kickers make a big impact in Week 1
NEW YORK >> It is called football, after all. And in Week 1 of the NFL season, the kicking game has been critical, from the season opener on Thursday night through the finale of Sunday's first full day of action.
Matt Prater knocked his 43-yard field goal through to lift Detroit past Indianapolis, his 13th winning or tying field goal with under 4:00 to play in the fourth quarter or in overtime.
Chandler Catanzaro missed his potential winner from 47 after a bad snap, and New England escaped at Arizona.
Mike Nugent came through for Cincinnati against his former Jets team, and Graham Gano failed for Carolina vs. Denver.
Five kickers botched 33-yard extra points, though four of their teams won. The Jets' Nick Folk, who'd never missed a PAT in his 10-year NFL career, saw his string of 312 straight makes end. Plus, he had a field goal blocked in a 23-22 defeat.
"I feel like I let the team down," Folk admitted. "If we make the extra point and the field goal, they need a touchdown at the end. That would have put us up six, so it's just frustrating from my end."
He gets an early chance to make up for it: "We have a game in four days (at Buffalo), so we have to bounce back pretty quick."
No kicker had more to bounce back from since last season than Minnesota's Blair Walsh. He infamously shanked a 27-yard field goal on the final play of a wild-card game against Seattle in January, and had to live with that memory until Sunday.
Then he missed two field goals and an extra point at Nashville before snapping out of his funk and connecting on four field goals in a 25-16 win.
"It's nice to bounce back with four field goals, and we won the game," said Walsh, who was supported by coach Mike Zimmer afterward. "They were important kicks. But, man, you want to take the drama out of it, that's for sure."
There was enough kicking drama this week to fill a soap opera. Not all of it involved placekickers, either.
Catanzaro's wide-left boot came after a bad snap from rookie Kameron Canaday. That sparked the usual criticism from afar of the Cardinals for saving money on the position.
Jaguars punter Brad Nortman landed consecutive kicks at the Green Bay 3 that flipped the field and helped Jacksonville take a 10-7 lead. Those punts didn't seem so significant at game's end in Green Bay's 27-23 win, but they helped keep the Jags in it early.
A 17-yarder by Chargers rookie Drew Kaser certainly played a major role in San Diego blowing a 21-point lead at Kansas City and falling in overtime. The Chiefs took over at the San Diego 42 and marched to the tying touchdown.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy didn't exactly distinguish himself by opting to have Josh Lambo try a 54-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 while up 27-10 earlier in the fourth quarter.
McCoy had been told by special teams coach Craig Aukerman that Lambo "was crushing the ball."
"He had all the confidence in the world before the game," McCoy said of Lambo, "so I had all of the confidence in the world, too."
Saints rookie kicker Wil Lutz, a late signee after spending the preseason in Baltimore, was 2 for 4 on field goals and made his four extra points in a 35-34 loss to Oakland. And it's hard to blame him for missing a desperation 61-yarder on the final play.
Somewhat embarrassingly, though, Lutz and holder Thomas Morstead began hugging in celebration on that last kick before it faded short.
For all of the made and missed field goals, the sublime and sickly punts, possibly the most noteworthy footwork in Week 1 came on kickoffs.
With touchbacks now coming out to the 25-yard line instead of the 20, there is added incentive to "pooch" the kickoffs and have them drop inside the 5.
Naturally, it was 2015 All-Pro Stephen Gostkowski doing the brilliant kicking for the Patriots.
Four of his six kickoffs didn't enter the end zone, and Arizona's final drive started at the 8 (including a Cardinals penalty).
"Our kickoff team, we went into the game feeling like we had to make some field position plays in the kicking game," coach Bill Belichick said. "You don't want to put their offense on a short field. If you can pile a few more yards onto the drive, hopefully it works in your favor. I know there was a lot of sentiment to eliminate that play, but those are the kinds of plays that are good strategy plays in football.
"Certainly, we had an opportunity to kick it out of the end zone on the last kickoff, but with a good field goal kicker, a good offense, good quarterback, we try to put them on as long a field as we could."
Yep, keeping the foot in football.
AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker and Dave Campbell, and Sports Writers Bernie Wilson, Dave Skretta, Brett Martel, Kyle Hightower, Mark Long, Mike Marot, Noah Trister and Dennis Waszak Jr. contributed.
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