The machine-like demeanor that Matt Prater presents when he kicks field goals under pressure belies the reality that there are times when he actually gets nervous.
But that’s not at a time like opening day of the regular season in Indianapolis last year, when Prater’s 43-yard field goal with four seconds left brought the Lions back from a one-point deficit to a 37-35 lead. A safety on the ensuing kickoff added the two points that made it a 39-35 win for the Lions.
And Prater’s knees weren’t knocking in Game 9 when he went out to kick a game-tying 58-yarder against the Vikings on the last play of regulation time. Prater made it with yards to spare. That set the Lions up to win in overtime on Golden Tate’s touchdown on a pass from Matthew Stafford.
Those kicks were just two examples of why Prater was the NFL’s best clutch kicker last year, especially from long range. Prater made 31 of 36 field-goal attempts overall, including all seven from 50 yards or longer. He made the Pro Bowl.
While teammates are biting their nails or turning their heads away from the action on the field because they’re too nervous to watch one of his last-second kicks, Prater’s nerves are not jangling.
“It’s like anything else,” Prater said before the Lions headed to Indianapolis for two days of training camp practices against the Colts in advance of Sunday’s first preseason game.
“The only pressure you have is what put on yourself. I expect to make the kick. I don’t act surprised or super excited when I make it.”
So when does he feels the nerves?
“Usually, the first day of live field goals in training camp,” he said. “And maybe the first preseason game.
“Once I start warming up, I don’t get nervous.”
That’s not much of a worthwhile scouting report on Prater for Lions’ opponents. If you want to rattle him, do it in training camp.
Obviously there is less at stake, but Sunday’s game at Lucas Oil Stadium is a return to where the Lions had the first of their eight come-from-behind victories last year. Prater isn’t reflecting on one kick in a game that set a trend for the Lions to make the playoffs.
“Not really,” he said. “I remember the misses more than the makes. I’m just trying to get a lot of work in out here (on the practice field) – get as many reps with Kasey (punter Kasey Redfern) holding and Mules (Don Muhlbach) snapping.
“They do a good job. Hopefully, we keep kicking them straight. A lot more goes into it than a last-second kick. A lot of guys have to make plays for me to get that last-second kick. I try to do my part and hope to come through in those moments when they set me up for a last-second kick.”