Kaeding kicks will be essential in playoffs

Nate Kaeding may finally get a chance to redeem himself. His stellar career has been marred by one blemish – a missed field goal in overtime during the playoff game against the Jets back in 2004. Now, Kaeding is going back to the playoffs as a Pro Bowler coming off the most successful season of his young career.

Kaeding has nailed 26-of-29 field goals, as well as all of his franchise-record 58 extra points. He also tied another team record when he hit a career-long 54-yard field goal in week four against the Ravens. His range is not a question – he hit a 60-yard field goal at the team's Fan Fest during the offseason.

"I am probably the biggest beneficiary of the team's success," Kaeding said. "I was glad to jump on the bandwagon a little bit."

He has also greatly improved his kickoffs. This season, he averaged 65.2 yards per kickoff, more than three yards better than last season's average. He also registered 11 touchbacks, eight more than a year ago.

Kaeding believes those improvements coincide with his improved health.

"I feel as healthy and as strong as I've ever felt during my three years here in the NFL," he said.

But Kaeding earns his keep by putting points on the board, and the only player in the AFC to score more points than Kaeding is his teammate, LaDainian Tomlinson.

Kaeding had another strong game last Sunday against Arizona. He hit all three of his extra points and both of his field goals, including a 47-yard kick which got the Chargers on the board late in the first quarter. That shouldn't be surprising, as Kaeding made each of his 15 field goal attempts at Qualcomm Stadium this season. In fact, he hasn't missed at home since he went wide right in that playoff game two years ago.

Kaeding did a great job with his kickoffs against the Cardinals, too. He was twice able to kick off from the 45-yard line due to Cardinals penalties, resulting in two easy touchbacks. His other four kicks traveled an average of 66 yards. Arizona twice started inside its own 20-yard line and its best field position following a Kaeding kick was its own 27.

Kaeding will be counted on to stay hot during the playoffs. As the games get tighter, field position matters more and points get harder to come by.

Then there is the issue of redemption. If Kaeding is put in position to win a playoff game, he must prove himself capable of forgetting his 2004 debacle and delivering in the clutch. If he can do that, he will cement his position among the league's elite. If not, a reputation as a choke artist is sure to be born.

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