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Friday, January 16, 2009
Right Leg, Don't Fail Me Now

By David Fleming

If you hit a game-winning FG, you could get carried around the field by one of your teammates. That's cool, right?

After 20 weeks and more than 15,000 minutes of action, the NFL season might very well come down to one undersized man's lower limbs. In fact, from 2002 to 2007, 12 playoff games were decided by late field goals. Wondering which man-on-the-spot will shine or wilt? We asked players around the league to clue us in to a kicker's most revealing big-moment tells. Here's what they told us.

PREGAME SHOW Skip that final kielbasa and head into the stadium early to watch the kicker warm up. He should be hitting from both hash marks and beyond the 40 with metronomic ease. If he seems agitated or distracted by the beehive of activity around him, head back to the tailgate for another round—you're gonna need it.

HANDS OF FATE What really give kickers the yips are wind and bad turf—and it's their hands that expose how much they're thinking about that stuff. "We're like golfers," says Texans kicker Kris Brown. "We do well when we find a rhythm, and anytime that gets disrupted or changed, it's a bad thing." Nervous grass-pulling or excessive ground-patting by your guy is a telltale sign you're about to be singing "Shanks for the Memories."

CAN'T HARDLY WAIT If their team is driving late, overexcited kickers start warming up as soon as the ball crosses the 50—and end up kicking out their leg. The cool ones wait until the 40 and kick at a steady pace through third down.

NOTHING BUT NET The practice net near the bench reveals all. The more power and precision the kicker uses while warming up, the more symmetrical the back of the net will look when it catches the kick. A kicker who's really in the zone can get the ball to catch in the net and wrap back around the top bar like a trapped trophy fish.

VIVA LA VIDA Kickers feeling the pressure tend to isolate themselves from teammates on the sideline. Not that you want your guy head-butting linebackers, but fist bumps and head bobs are a good sign. "If I'm laughing then I'm relaxed, and if I'm relaxed then I'm gonna make the kick," says Steelers kicker Jeff Reed. "A kicker's body language should always say the same thing: This is what I live for."