Mon, 06 Feb 2023

Among the Jets Kicker's Milestones at Minnesota: Converting the First 60-Yard FG in Franchise HistoryRandy Lange

The fate of NFL placekickers is that unless they win - or lose - the Super Bowl, reporters and fans generally aren't busting down their doors to talk to them after wins - and especially losses.

Take Greg Zuerlein.

It was not up to any Jet to mention him unless asked by reporters. Only one player was heard to reference the Green & White footman in the U.S. Bank Stadium visitors' locker room following the Jets' 22-17 loss to the Vikings.

"The offense did a great job battling back," LB C.J. Mosley said, "and 'Z,' as always, doing a great job of making field goals."

It was up to the reporters to ask questions about Zuerlein only if they saw him as an angle to victory, which of course he wasn't.

Which was a shame because Zuerlein, a.k.a. "Greg the Leg," "Legatron" and "Z," against the Vikings had arguably one of the greatest kicking games in Jets history.

The centerpiece for the veteran, who came to the Jets as an unrestricted free agent from Dallas in March, was the longest field goal in franchise history. He lined up for a 60-yard try at the end of the first half, and he crushed it from the right hashmarks, applying the correct amount of english to have the ball veer right, then course-correct left and pass just inside and well up the right goalpost.

While Zuerlein had already hit two 60-yarders in his Rams career (including a 61-yarder at Minnesota in 2015), Jets kickers had been slow to reach that magic number. The franchise distance mark of 57 yards was reached only in 2017 by Chandler Catanzaro in Cleveland and was equaled twice by Zuerlein, the first also at Cleveland and the second last week against the Bears to set the Jets' all-time home distance record.

Besides the mortar shot, Zuerlein reached a few other milestones:

■ Before the 60-yarder, he nailed a 48-yard FG in the first quarter. In the third frame he hit from 36 and 30. In the fourth period, with 12:30 to play, he was good from 26. It was the 10th game of at least five field goals with no misses in franchise annals. Most recently, Sam Ficken went 5-for-5 in the loss to Denver in 2020. Jason Myers went 7-of-7 vs. the Colts in 2018, the all-time team mark, and was the most recent kicker to go 5-for-5 on the road, at Tennessee in '18.

■ The Vikings have the NFL's kickoff leader this season in Kene Nwangwu, who lifted his average to 25.8 yards/return in large part with a 97-yard touchdown return on Thanksgiving night vs. the Patriots. Needless to say, special teams coordinator Brant Boyer didn't want Nwangwu going to the house vs. his kick coverage team. So Zuerlein's job handling kickoffs was to make them unreturnable. Which he did: All seven of his kickoffs were touchbacks.

Only two other times in Jets history dating to 1972 have Jets kickoff specialists hit seven or more kickoffs in a game with all of them going for touchbacks. Myers was the first with a 9-for-9 day at Detroit in the 2018 opener. Zuerlein did it for the first time with a 7-for-7 game vs. Miami in October.

Most important is that Zuerlein's successes kept the Jets in the game against the Vikings until their offense kicked in and flirted with taking the lead away from the Vikings. He tied the score at 3-3 with the 48-yarder, cut the halftime deficit to 20-6 with the big 6-0, then got the Jets into a one-score game with his third through fifth FGs that made the score 20-15.

Zuerlein didn't win the game, but he did pretty well at Minnesota. Maybe in Orchard Park or back in East Rutherford, he'll be the talk of the town.

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