The Lions really put the ‘special’ in special teams on Sunday. The offense, much like the last two months, didn’t do the team any favors and failed to deliver on their part, leaving the rest of the team to pick up the slack. While there’s only so much the special teams unit can do, they surely did do it. Matt Prater went three-for-three on relatively long field goals and the kickoff coverage team did a solid job shutting down former Lion, Ameer Abdullah, on most kickoff returns. The shining star of the day however, was the punt team, without a doubt. Led by Sam Martin’s cannon for a leg, their performance is what kept this Lions team in the game for much of the first half.
Unsung hero of the week: Sam Martin
I may be a little biased due to my love of special teams, but I’ve lost track of how many special teams performances have earned this award this season. For Sam Martin, it certainly isn’t his first. The last time he earned this award was following the Lions’ win over the Carolina Panthers, in which I said: “Watch out for Martin to be a repeat award winner here.” Lo and behold, here he is once more.
Martin averaged 41.5 yards on six punts which, objectively, is respectable for the NFL. When you take into consideration that many of those were pooch punt situations and Martin downed four of his six attempts inside the Vikings’ 20-yard line, it becomes all the more impressive.
That alone is pivotal in changing a game, but the context of Sunday’s game gave Martin’s performance added importance. Our own John Whiticar has a habit of playing a game called “punts vs. points” in low-scoring games, a fairly self-explanatory concept. Late in the second quarter it was a close match, with the Lions up 9-0 on the Vikings and six punts having taken place. With that kind of back and forth, punters have the opportunity/job of “driving down the field” with their legs, and Martin did just that by outperforming Vikings punter Matt Wile throughout the game.
To give a hypothetical example: The Lions have the ball, go three-and-out, and Martin boots a 50-yard punt. The Vikings go three and out, and Wile punts it back 45 yards. The Lions have thus netted five yards of field position.
With Martin’s consistently stellar performance, and more importantly, out-performance of Wile, he managed to keep the Lions in the game and get more yardage than the offense could at some points. For that, he wins this week’s unsung hero of the week.
With injuries adding up for both the Lions and the Green Bay Packers, we could see a similar situation play out next week in the cold of Lambeau Field. Who knows who our winner will be next week; maybe another specialist?