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In the NFL, 50 (yards) is new 40

Kickers are dialed in from long distance in what looks like a record-setting season.

November 12, 2011|By Sam Farmer
  • Jacksonville's Josh Scobee kicks a 54-yard field goal against Baltimore last month. He made a 59-yarder last season.
Jacksonville's Josh Scobee kicks a 54-yard field goal against Baltimore… (Phil Sears / US Presswire )

This NFL season is becoming a feat of the feet.

Citing statistics from Elias Sports Bureau, the New York Times reported last week that kickers had made 45 field goals of 50 yards or longer through the first eight weeks of the season, a torrid pace. The NFL season record is 66 of those kicks, set in 2008.

Through Week 8 of that record-setting season, 32 of those kicks had been made. So that mark looks as if it will be easily eclipsed -- although the pace probably will cool as the weather around the country takes a turn for the worse.

"Just like athletes at other positions, kickers are evolving," former NFL kicker Michael Husted said.

"When I was growing up and coming out of high school, there were hardly any kicking coaches or camps you could go to. Now, there are so many personal kicking coaches out there, kicking camps, punting camps, even long-snapping camps."

Husted is founder and president of National Camp Series, which prepares and showcases specialists for college football.

This season, Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski and Jacksonville's Josh Scobee have each made five field goals of at least 50 yards. By comparison, Jan Stenerud, the only pure kicker in the Hall of Fame, made just 17 of 64 kicks of that distance over the course of his 19-year career.

"The expectation has changed in the league," Detroit kicker Jason Hanson told the New York Times. "If they put you out there, you're supposed to make it. All of a sudden, a 48-yarder has become like from 32."

Youth served

Rookie linebackers Von Miller of Denver and Aldon Smith of San Francisco are tied among first-year players with 6 1/2 sacks each. That's only slightly off the pace Jevon Kearse set in 1999, when he established the rookie record with 14 1/2 sacks.

The highest sack totals by rookies (since 1982), according to the NFL (*projected):

Jevon Kearse Tennessee 1999 14.5
Dwight Freeney Indianapolis 2002 13
Leslie O'Neal San Diego 1986 12.5
Simeon Rice Arizona 1996 12.5
Von Miller Denver 2011 13*
Aldon Smith San Francisco 2011 13*

Revving up

Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer is in an unusual situation at the moment, one unlike any he's experienced in his nine-year NFL career.

In a sense, he feels like a rookie again in that he's scrambling to absorb the Raiders' offense. He also feels fresher than he ever has at this point of the season, seeing as he was spared the hits of training camp and the first six weeks of the season, because he was essentially out of the league when the Raiders traded for him Oct. 18. But he also acknowledges he's not in the type of shape he'd typically be in at this point.

"I feel like we just got started," he said after Thursday's victory at San Diego. "These guys have been playing a long time, since training camp started. I'm just rolling in. It's weird, it's different. I haven't been in this situation before, and not many people have."

Palmer said he never got to a point when he thought he was done, even though he vowed to never again play for Cincinnati. He continued to work out and throw, although he didn't have NFL-type receivers to throw to, so he wound up essentially playing catch.

"It was kind of an old retired man's workout -- the elliptical and Stairmaster," he said. "Did some curls, biceps, kind of walked around the gym a little bit. Normally, I'm getting after it, training hard. So it was tough to stay in football shape."

Throwing to stationary targets, he said, is "a waste of time. You're not getting any rhythm and timing. You're just giving your arm a workout.

"So I have some catching up to do. I missed a couple of balls I shouldn't have missed and left balls in places I shouldn't have left them. And that's just something that comes with time and repetition."

Second wind Sure, it would be nice to be San Francisco and have a chance to clinch a postseason berth before Thanksgiving. But it figures to be a lot more down-to-the-wire for most teams. And if history is a guide, some teams that don't have winning records now will still make the playoffs.

Twenty-eight teams since 2000 have reached the postseason despite a record of .500 or below at the midway point, with at least one of those teams making it in each of those seasons.

The teams since 2006 that started the season at .500 or below through eight games and earned a playoff berth, and how far they advanced:

2006 Dallas 4-4 9-7 Wild Card
2006 N.Y. Jets 4-4 10-6 Wild Card
2006 Philadelphia 4-4 10-6 Divisional
2007 San Diego 4-4 11-5 AFC Championship
2007 Seattle 4-4 10-6 Divisional
2007 Tampa Bay 4-4 9-7 Wild Card
2008 Indianapolis 4-4 12-4 Wild Card
2008 Miami 4-4 11-5 Wild Card
2008 Minnesota 4-4 10-6 Wild Card
2008 San Diego 3-5 8-8 Divisional
2009 Green Bay 4-4 11-5 Wild Card
2009 N.Y. Jets 4-4 9-7 AFC Championship
2009 Baltimore 4-4 9-7 Divisional
2010 Seattle 4-4 7-9 Divisional

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