Why Matt Prater may be more important than Tim Tebow
|12.18.11 at 2:02 pm ET|
Forget Tim Tebow. Matt Prater is the most valuable player in the Broncos’ miraculous six-game winning streak. Prater has kicked the winning field goal in Denver’s last three games and in five of Denver’s eight wins this season.
Without the powerful and artful foot of Prater, Tebow and the Broncos aren’t on the cover of Sports Illustrated and getting their own Saturday Night Live skits.
The best example of this came last week against the Bears, when Tebow was limited by the clock and could only get the Broncos to the Bears’ 40, down 10-7.
Prater came on and booted a 59-yarder that had about 10 yards to spare. Tie game. Then, on Denver’s first possession of overtime, Prater nailed the game-winner from 51 yards. The 59-yarder was the second of Prater’s career in the mile-high air. Prater owns three of the six longest field goals in team history. Jason Elam has the longest in franchise and NFL history at 63 yards against Jacksonville in 1998.
Prater, you might recall, had the overtime game-winner on this same field in 2009 when then-Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels did his epic celebration after beating the Patriots, 20-17.
“Field goal range is extended,” Belichick said. “Absolutely, he’s like [12-for-16] from over 50 or whatever it is. He’s got the leg but he’s also an accurate kicker. He’s hit a lot of long ones. Scott [Scott O’Brien] coached him out there. We know him, he knows him. We know this guy has got a lot of leg so yeah, absolutely it extends your defense in those situations in terms of the field goal. If you’re trying to protect against the field goal then you’re extending out a little bit further. Again, that’s something we talk about every week. We go into the game with what we feel like the opposing kicker’s range is, also our kicker, what our kicker’s range is, how far we have to get to.
“On game day, we look at the actual conditions and say, ‘Okay, this game we need to get inside the 40, we need to get inside the 35, we need to get inside the 30 if we’re going in this direction or it’s inside the 40 if we’re going in the other direction’ and whatever it happens to be. Some of that is based on what the actual game conditions are. Yeah, absolutely you have to be aware of that, offensively and defensively, especially at the end of the game because then you’re willing to take a shot at anything. If it’s the first quarter and you’re willing to try a 60-yard field goal, there’s a consequence to that. At the end of the game, you’re going to take that shot at it so it plays a little bit differently.
How do Prater and punter Britton Colquitt, fit into the complementary style of play the Broncos play?
“They’re just good, period. Colquitt can change field position, has a big leg, good plus-50 punter,” Belichick added. “They do a good job down there, the gunners do a good job of downing the ball, making plays inside the 10-yard line. Prater obviously has a big leg, 40 touchbacks, long field goal guy, great onside kicker. His two kicks, the one against Miami and then the one last week against Chicago were really just outstanding kicks, they were great kicks. They got one of them and could have easily had the other one. The returners, [Eric Decker] Decker and [Quan Cosby] Cosby and [Eddie Royal] Royal – they’re very strong in that area too. Lonie [Lonie Paxton] of course does a good job. They’ve got real good specialists all the way across the board.”
And then there’s the onside kicks. Prater is a master of the art. He and the Broncos converted a key one against the Dolphins in Miami on Oct. 23 at the end of the game. The Broncos recovered. They won the game in overtime, 18-15. He would’ve converted another last week, except that Mario Haggan poked it away from his own teammate.
“The two onsides kicks – the one at the end of the Miami game that they had to get and the one at the end of the Chicago game that two guys had their hands on the ball and they kind of knocked each other off and then it bounced to the linebacker and so Chicago ended up with the ball. They had two guys that the ball was right in their hands,” Belichick noted. “He does a great job of spiking it, putting it up there, giving them a chance to get under it. Even though you’re blocking those guys, you can’t get them all and the ball comes down to right there in that dead spot. He really does a good job on that. He surprise onside kick – he’s done that in the past too. He just does a real good job with it – he’s got a great touch on those kicks, kind of like [Olindo Mare] did.”
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