Epidemic agony of the feet
Nate Kaeding, your brothers in kicking shoes feel your pain this postseason
The Mort Report on ESPN Radio
Chris Mortensen speaks with sports psychiatrist Dr. Kevin Elko about the pressure that kickers face and what it takes to be "clutch."
Overall, kickers are hitting only 57.7 percent of their attempts in the playoffs, compared to 81.3 percent in the 2009 regular season.
Recalling an ice-cold nightmare
This year's remaining playoff contenders don't have to worry about the elements affecting their kickers: Both home teams, Indianapolis and New Orleans, play in enclosed stadiums.Otherwise, the weather can be huge factor in how kickers produce in the postseason. What most people remember about Elliott was his epic failure for a Chiefs team that had gone 13-3 during the 1995 regular season.
Focus on the process, not the end result
The Colts are lucky to have two elite kickers. Most teams have a hard enough time finding one."The way I see it, there are usually 10-12 kickers in the NFL who are better than everybody else and the next 20 guys are replaceable," said Elliott, who also kicked for the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and '93. "So it comes down to who gets a chance to prove themselves. "When I was in Dallas, I had a special-teams coach named Steve Hoffman who started a trend of giving young guys a chance. His philosophy was that you can find a lot of guys who can make 75 or 80 percent during the regular season. "What you don't know is what they'll do in the fourth quarter and the playoffs. And you won't know that until you reach that point."
Still, there is a great value in a kicker failing before he reaches a critical juncture in the postseason.
“When Longwell missed a potential game-winning, 27-yard field goal for the Green Bay Packers in 1997 -- which happened to be his second career game with that team -- he benefited from supportive talks with then-Packers quarterback Brett Favre and defensive end Reggie White. Jets kicker Feely also felt his own devastation. In 2005, as a member of the New York Giants, he missed three field goals in a regular-season loss to the Seahawks. His performance was so ugly that "Saturday Night Live" later lampooned him in a skit. Feely can laugh about it now because he has endured. "What you have to understand is that you can't fear failure," said Feely, who has converted at least 83 percent of his field goals in every season since that point. "When you go through something like that -- and you see that it won't destroy you -- you see that you can perform up to your ability. And the way you succeed is by focusing on the process instead of the end result. Once you start to focus on the end result, your mind can start wondering."
What you have to understand is that you can't fear failure.” -- Jets kicker Jay Feely, who will kick against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game Sunday
Prepare for eventual failure
Every kicker has his own approach to steadying his nerves.John Carney kicked this season for the Saints but was waived in December, and then the team hired him as a kicking consultant. "The key," he said, "is learning how to calm yourself down and make everything fluid [in your routine]."
Most know the pain that comes with letting your team down: the sleepless nights, the shaken confidence, the feeling, as Brown said, "that the whole world has fallen on top of you."In fact, Feely sent a sympathetic text to the Bengals' Graham after the Jets' wild-card win. He also consoled a clearly devastated Kaeding on Sunday. These players make such an effort because they realize that few people can relate to the demands of their jobs. For somebody like Kaeding -- who is now 3-for-9 in postseason kicks at home -- there are now legitimate questions about his mental toughness in the clutch. "For Nate to miss those, I really felt for him and understood some of his pain," said Stover. "So I prayed for the guy and I understand as a kicker that you're going to say, 'I'm going to do everything I can for this team to get the ball through the uprights and not go out there and ever think about those situations.' "You don't go out there ever thinking you're going to miss a field goal."
Defined by the biggest momentsElliott felt the same way during his struggles, but ultimately it didn't matter. After his contract expired with the Chiefs following that loss to the Colts in the 1995 postseason, the team didn't re-sign him. He had two more shots to stay in the NFL -- in Minnesota the following season and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the year after that -- but couldn't win a job. So after playing four years in the league and winning a Super Bowl title with the 1992 Dallas Cowboys, Elliott ended his career quietly. What he realizes today is something that every kicker in this weekend's game should understand: Kickers who miss big field goals only get so many opportunities. In the end, they're ultimately defined by what they do at this time of year. As Elliott said, "There are a lot of kickers who will kick a long time in this league. But only a select few of those guys are really clutch." Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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