Matt Prater has practiced punting from time to time over his 11-year place-kicking career, but never has he been asked to do it for real in a game.
That's until Kasey Redfern suffered a knee injury early in Detroit’s 35-23 win over Arizona Sunday, pressing Prater into double duty.
“That’s the first time something like that’s ever happened and hopefully nothing serious with Kasey (Redfern) and he comes back quick,” Prater said. “Hats off to the guys up front protecting and Mule (Don Muhlbach) snapping. He always does a great job.”
Prater punted four times total with a 34.8 average and a long of 47 yards that pinned the Cardinals at their own 6-yard line.
“You don’t really prepare for it,” Prater said. “So, I’m going to definitely have a few ice bags on my leg later on tonight just from punting the ball. It’s a different leg swing and it just, a punt feels different. Probably be sore, more sore tomorrow.”
He even joked that the punting part of the process wasn’t even the most difficult part.
“Taking the bullets from Mule and trying to not to embarrass myself by dropping it or mishandling because I know it’s going to be fast and right on the money,” he said, when asked what the hardest part was.
“So, it’s all on me if I don’t catch it and get it off, but like I said, Mule’s been doing it for a long time. The reason why he’s in his 14th year of snapping, he’s one of the best to ever do it.”
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell always preaches versatility and players being able to step up and do different things. Prater was a terrific example of that for the Lions on Sunday.
With Sam Martin on NFI for the first six weeks of the season, expect the Lions to work out punters this week and have a new man in before they start practice Wednesday.
Receiver TJ Jones let a couple of early opportunities to make plays slip through his hands.
But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, and the Lions trailing 17-15, Jones made two critical catches on a drive that would ultimately give the Lions the lead for good.
He reached back behind him and made a terrific 16-yard catch on a 3rd and 10. Three plays later, Jones made another 16-yard grab along the sideline down to the Arizona 30-yard line, making sure he toe-tapped the line to get both feet in.
After the game, Stafford called Jones the offense’s “Swiss Army Knife” for his ability to play all the receiver spots. Even after Jones couldn’t haul in two earlier passes, Stafford didn’t hesitate to go right back to him in a crucial moment. Stafford said after the game that he has confidence in all his guys.
Caldwell thought those two catches were crucial within the grand landscape of the game.
“Anytime you get a third-down conversion, another big play in a drive, it’s significant, and those two were significant,” he said. “That was not an easy catch that he made. Matthew can put a little hot sauce on that ball, will sometimes make it a little difficult to catch it and particularly if it’s not in the standard position, and TJ did a nice job turning and making that catch (on the first one).
“I do think that those two catches were a big part of the game.”
Stafford set an NFL record last season by recording eight come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter. So, why should 2017 start out any different?
Trailing 17-15 to start the fourth quarter, Stafford struck for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to rookie receiver Kenny Golladay. He also got some help in the form of a 35-yard Miles Killebrew pick-six.
“Yeah, you’ve got to play four quarters,” Stafford said. “We couldn’t get out of our own way early on, but our defense kept us in it. You know, we were able to put some points up there in the second half and then our defense added one there late, which was awesome.
“I mean, it took everybody. We’re a resilient group, everybody is. Just kept our head down and kept plugging.”
Caldwell confirmed after the game that Redfern's injury is significant.
One other injury of note is an apparent left ring finger injury to receiver Golden Tate. He suffered the injury early on, but battled through and finished with 10 catches for 107 yards.
“Had to work through a couple little issues that he had,” Caldwell said of Tate. “But he hung in there and played well.”
Tate had the finger in a splint after the game.