The Detroit Lions have two of the NFL's best specialists, and it appears it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
The Lions and kicker Matt Prater agreed on a three-year contract extension Wednesday that keeps him in a Lions uniform through the 2020 season. Prater was in the final year of his previous contract.
Last year, the Lions signed punter Sam Martin to a four-year contract extension just before the start of the season.
Both Martin and Prater were named NFC Pro Bowl alternates last year, and have been two of the best at their positions in the league since coming to Detroit -- Prater via free agency and Martin the 2013 draft.
"We have good chemistry together," Prater said Wednesday of he and Martin. "We work well together, and I'm excited to be here with him another three years."
The Lions originally signed Prater as a free agent early in the 2014 season, and he's been one of the best kickers in the NFL ever since. Prater says it was an easy decision to re-up with the Lions because he loves everything about his current situation in Detroit, from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff. Prater said Wednesday he hopes to retire a Lion, whenever that day comes.
This year, Prater has made 10 of 12 field goals and all 15 of his extra points. His only misses are from 56 and 59 yards. He was even pushed into emergency punting duties Week 1 after Kasey Redfern suffered a season-ending knee injury, and Prater more than held his own.
"Every time we touch the ball we want to score a touchdown, but we know we got a pretty good option if we don't," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Prater extension. "He's shown the ability to make all sorts of kicks, in all sorts of environments in all sorts of climates.
"So, he's made some big time clutch kicks for us. I think he relishes that moment, which is pretty fun to see. Some kickers maybe don't, and he's a gamer and does a great job for us."
Prater's won a NFC Special Teams Player of the Week and NFC Special Teams Player of the Month award this season, and has a record four field goals of 55 yards or longer already this season.
The Lions released punter Jeff Locke Tuesday, so it appears Martin will return to his punting duties, as well as his job as Prater's holder on field goals and extra points, after sitting out the first six games while on the non-football injury list due to an ankle injury he suffered in early July.
He finished the regular season last year with a 44.2 net punting average as he re-set the Lions record in that category. He's finished with at least a 40.0 net punting average in each of his previous four seasons in the league.
The Lions are no-doubt happy they've now locked up two of the best specialists in the NFL through 2020.
BYE WEEK BREAK
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah's breakout season was back in 2015. He recorded 14.5 sacks and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Last season, Ansah was injured for most of the year, and finished the regular season with just two sacks. This year, he's dealt with a lingering knee issue that's forced him to miss practice time.
He recorded three sacks in a Week 2 win over New York, but has just one sack in his other five games. He's credited with nine quarterback pressures in 208 snaps by Pro Football Focus.
Ansah admited Wednesday he's searching for more consistency, but said frustration isn't the right word to use for some of the inconsistencies in his game early on.
"I wouldn't use the word frustration," he said. "I just want to be out there for my team and be the best Ziggy that I can be. That is what I've been planning to be this whole year."
He also insists the 2015 version of himself is still in there.
"I'm the same person," he said. "It could always be better. There's always more room for improvement as a player, still a student of the game."
Ansah said the bye week was much needed not only for him, but for the whole team. Maybe a weeks worth of rest did his knee good, and we'll start to see more flash plays from Ansah moving forward.
"Yeah, anytime you can get a little bit of extended treatment time without necessarily pounding on it, it's always good," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said of Ansah's bye week rest.
The Lions' offense is always looking for the opportunity to convert big plays, but they haven't come as frequently as they or the fan base would like.
Detroit's 20 plays of 20-plus yards this year ranks them just 26th in that category among the league's 32 teams.
But Stafford says the Lions have to let those plays come organically. They can't start forcing the issue.
"I think big plays come in this league in a variety of different ways," Stafford said. "Sometimes it's, geeze, you throw a screen to a back and he goes for 40. I don't know if it's lining up and just running four guys down the field and throwing a Hail Mary, or throwing one to one guy.
"I think we got to make those plays happen organically. It's kind of like if you're baseball player, stepping up to the plate, and you're just trying to hit a homerun every single time.
"I think I was taught as a kid, I know they got launch angles and exit velocity and all that stuff now, but just hit doubles and let the homeruns come, right? I think that's kind of got to be our philosophy. Go out there and execute at a high level, and let the big ones come to you."