MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara: Sam Martin made a lot of people happy Thursday night

Posted Aug 22, 2013

The Detroit Lions' fifth-round draft choice out of Appalachian State showed his worth Thursday night vs. the Patriots

With one swing of his leg, Sam Martin made so many people so happy.

First, there were the other 10 members of the Lions' punt team who didn't have to ward off blocks and chase the New England Patriots' return man because of what Martin had done.

Sam MartinP Sam Martin

Then there were the 11 members of the Lions' defense, who knew they had the Patriots in the hole and could dig in and change the complexion of the game if they made a stop.

And there were the fans in the far corner of Ford Field, who whooped with joy when Martin's punt in the second quarter bounced short of the end zone and skipped left out of bounds at the one-yard line.

Of course, Sam Martin was happy, too.

As he would say much later after the Lions had put the finishing touches on a 40-9 victory over the Patriots in Game 3 of the preseason at Ford Field Thursday night, there aren't many times when a punter can directly lead to a scoring play.

Martin's 57-yard punt that pinned the Patriots back at their own one-yard line with 50 seconds left in the first half was one of those punts.

The defense went on to force a punt, giving the ball back to the Lions at their 47. The Lions moved the ball to the Patriots' 31, setting up a 49-yard field goal by David Akers with five seconds left in the half to give the Lions 16-3 lead.

With the reserves taking over in the second half, the game became a runaway. The 31-point margin of victory made it easy to overlook some individual plays, but Martin's punt was not one of them.

"I guess you'd say that was a three-point punt, because we got three points out of that field position," Coach Jim Schwartz said after the game.

Martin was drafted in the fifth round out of Appalachian State to upgrade to upgrade a punting game that was a glaring weakness all of last season. After three preseason games, the decision to draft a punter looks like a winner.

Martin averaged 56 yards on four punts Thursday night, twice forcing the Patriots to start drives inside their 20. The Patriots returned three punts for a net of 10 yards, and a long return of five yards.

The Lions could feel a momentum shift on the punt that trapped the Patriots at their one.

"It's time to eat," is how defensive end Jason Jones described it. "It's time to get the crowd involved. I haven't seen many punts like that in my six years of playing.

"With the crowd being involved, it's great."

Even with the great Tom Brady at quarterback, being backed up limits what an offense can do.

"It puts the offense's back against the wall," said middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. "They're just trying to get a good play so they can punt."

It was fourth down at the Lions' 42 when Martin punted. The call was a directional punt to the left sideline. From the moment he hit the ball, Martin knew he had a good punt. The only problem was it might have been too good – into the end zone for a touchback.

"It's kind of called a 'sky ball,'" Martin said. "You drop the ball higher. You want to keep it out of the end zone. You don't want to drive it. It's only 58 yards to the end zone.

"I got fortunate with that bounce. I hit that a little more than I wanted to. I knew I hit it well. As soon as I saw the return man (Leon Washington) run up to fake like he was going to catch it, I knew it was over his head. At that point I was thinking, 'bounce back, bounce back.' Luckily, it bounced sideways."

The noise also indicated it was a good punt.

"I realized it when the crowd went crazy," Martin said. "I was looking for the ref. I couldn't see him.

"You don't really get much opportunity to noticeably and directly help your team. When you get a punt like that, when you pin them down deep, it's a good feeling – especially when the defense steps up and forces a three-and-out or forces a turnover.

"It's a good feeling. It helps the team."