Sometimes I think about how the Detroit Lions got Matt Prater, and it still seems surreal to me. The Lions were in the midst of a kicker crisis. It was 2014, and their rookie seventh-round kicker had blown four out of seven kicks in just three games. Panicked about their poor choice, the Lions went to Alex Henery, who was just 1-of-3 in the preseason for Detroit. Henery proceeded to miss four of his five kicks over the next three games with the Lions, losing a crucial game against the Bills in the process.
The Lions were dumbfounded. Sure they were a respectable 3-2 after five weeks, but their kickers were a combined 4-for-10, and there was no clear end in sight. Then the Broncos did them a huge favor. After serving his four-game suspension, Prater was released by the Broncos, who were happy with their youngster Brandon McManus. The signing was a no-brainer for the Lions. Prater finished the season 21-of-26. Not quite his best year, but just the respectability the Lions needed to make their playoff run.
Two years later, Prater has settled in quite nicely. In total, he has made 85.5 percent of his field goals with Detroit, including 12-of-15 from 50 yards or longer (80 percent).
But nowhere has Prater been more valuable than in crunch time. On Sunday, Prater made what should be considered the pinnacle of clutch kicks: a 58-yarder, on the road, with no time remaining, with no timeouts to plan the kick accordingly, to tie the game. As soon as the ball left his foot, there was no question. The kick was good. This was no normal kick. This was special:
Prater's 58-yarder was the second-longest game-tying field goal in the final minute of the fourth quarter in NFL history, per @NFL.— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) November 7, 2016
And the longest clutch kick in the fourth quarter? That also belongs to Prater:
This wasn’t his first time coming through in the clutch for Detroit. In this season alone, Prater has hit four game-winning or game-tying field goals in the final minutes of regulation. But this isn’t new for Prater. He has made a habit out of clutch kicks. He has been kicking with ice cold blood in his veins for his entire professional career.
Matt Prater: 23-of-23 in career on game-tying or go-ahead FG attempts in the 4th quarter or OT after his 58-yard make— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 6, 2016
Just look at that stat. For all of the credit guys like Adam Vinatieri and Sebastian Janikowski get, Prater is silently becoming the most clutch kicker of all time. 23-of-23. You literally can’t get any better than that.
I know Lions fans aren’t taking Prater for granted after that horrible five-game stretch in 2014. But maybe it’s time for the rest of the league to take notice. Prater belongs in the conversation for best clutch kicker in the NFL right now, maybe best clutch kicker of all time. Just listen to the way the guy talks:
Prater: "I expect to make everything. They send me out there to make kicks, not attempt them."— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) November 6, 2016
That’s the mentality of a clutch kicker.