A big leg is necessary to kick in the NFL. Otherwise, those 49-yard attempts with the wind blowing at you would be just a pipe dream and not something to consider.
More than any other position, however, a kicker needs a nearly unflinching mental strength. That way, when that 49-yarder comes up short – like Jay Feely’s did Sunday in Seattle – there is the ability to try it again, without the failure messing with future results.
“What you’re asking that guy to do is very tough,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You have to be mentally strong. That’s one thing I know for sure about Jay.”
Why Feely is like that is difficult to peg, but there is little question he has that quality. The veteran played at a Pro Bowl level last season (89 percent field-goal success rate); this season, he has missed three of his four field-goal tries. It isn’t the start he wanted. But it’s what he must build from.
“There are a lot of guys in college and high school who can kick the ball as far as NFL guys can,” Feely said Tuesday. “But not a lot can handle that stress, or come back from a bad game and not let it deter you.”
Whisenhunt said he expected Feely to make his two kicks in Seattle – one that bent left from 51 yards away, and then the short attempt in what ended up being a three-point loss – but also said his confidence in Feely hasn’t wavered.
(Feely did make a third attempt, from 44 yards.)
It’s too early for concern. Feely was outstanding last season, one of the few offensive bright spots. And there is always the possibility – although Feely hasn’t mentioned it at all – that he is still getting used to new holder
More importantly, Feely carries confidence in himself that goes beyond his own words. His predecessor, Neil Rackers, proved to be a dynamic kicker himself. But he got to a point after a few crucial misses over the years that his vibe didn’t always match what he was saying.
Feely stayed in the locker room after the Seattle game waiting to face media questions he easily could have avoided. It doesn’t make him a hero, but it does show a trust in himself to handle the negative.
“You learn how to handle failure, and that’s not just in football but life,” Feely said. “If you are going to be great at anything, you have to know how to fail, and failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of my greatest successes I have had have been because of the failures I have had and the ability to overcome those failures.”
Feely is in his 11th NFL season, and has kicked in 162 career regular-season games. He has missed two field goals in a game nine times (plus one in the playoffs). Some have hurt like Sunday’s did. His Falcons lost by one in a 2002 game, his Jets lost by three in a 2009 game. Then there was the infamous Giants’ trip to Seattle in 2005, when Feely missed three of five attempts in a three-point loss, a performance oddly immortalized in a Saturday Night Live skit.
Feely came back from that Seattle game by making 12-of-14 field goals in the final five games as the Giants won four of five and made the playoffs.
Kicker is unlike most positions in that it’s easy to see if a player succeeded or not, Feely said, because points are either on the scoreboard or they are not. Anymore, a kicker is expected to make every try – it’s a miss that raises eyebrows.
That’s why just one miss can prey on a kicker’s mind, which is why so many can go so sour so quickly. The ones that play for 20 years, Feely said, are the ones who learn the ebbs and flows of the game and their job.
Feely has a wide range of interests outside of football. Maybe that has helped shape his thought process and built his mental toughness. He certainly seems ready to deal with his current ebb, and regain some flow.
“Who you are isn’t defined by your success on the field,” Feely said. “I know there are greater purposes for which I have been put on earth than just to kick a football. I mean, I want to be the very best kicker I can be and it hurts when you don’t come through.
“Riding home after that game, you beat yourself up because you know you had an opportunity to come through for your team, your teammates and the fans. But it allows you to move forward quicker when you have a different perspective.”