Known just as "strong legs" throughout training camp, Rayner and Ryan have been growing in confidence and have shown more consistency with each game. Together, they are among the most dominant kicking duos in the NFL, though they are essentially in their first year in such roles.
Before both are anointed to the Hall of Fame, however, they must prove their worth over the long run and continue to improve. Here is a prediction, though, for the rest of this season: Each will end up re-writing the Packers record books for certain single-season marks. After all, they have flashed such record-breaking ability already.
Rayner would have set a team record this past Sunday with a 55-yard field goal had it not been for a pre-snap penalty by the Dolphins. Rayner then nailed a 40-yarder, but that was wiped out by a penalty on the Packers that ended the first half.
Chris Jacke (1994) and Ryan Longwell (2001) booted field goals of 54 yards previously, a mark Rayner matched on Oct. 2 at Philadelphia. It should not be long, though, before that mark becomes second best. Rayner has earned the trust of head coach Mike McCarthy to try longer than usual kicks under any circumstances.
"Yeah, Mike hasn't shied away from any of that," said Rayner. "Anytime we have a long field goal attempt, they are not even thinking about it. They're calling field goal right away. That, to me, shows me they have the confidence. I know I will get some more opportunities the rest of the season."
Earlier this year against the Saints at Lambeau Field, Rayner launched a once-in-a-lifetime kickoff. Chronicled by Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated, Rayner's late fourth-quarter kickoff hung in the air for 5.12 seconds, the best the longtime writer has ever charted. Why is this so significant? It was so much better than the second best he has ever recorded that it might never happen again. Dr. Z has been timing kickoffs for some 40 years he said in his article, thus Rayner's feet… er… feat was worthy of recognition.
According to Dr. Z, Tampa Bay's Michael Husted had the previous best hang-time mark of 4.64 against the Bears at Tampa Stadium in 1993. Rayner's half-second longer may not seem like much more, but considering thousands of kickoffs and none even close to Rayner's, it is more than just noteworthy. Furthermore, Dr. Z points out that punts typically stay in the air one second longer than kicks and that only one in 20 punts have the hang time Rayner's kick did.
"It was the sweetest hit I've ever made in my life…," Rayner told Dr. Z.
The above numbers are an indicator that Rayner has the chance to be one of the game's greats. He recorded two other touchbacks against the Saints with the wind only being a minor factor in the game and altitude not an issue. He already has eight touchbacks for the season, a statistic the Packers do not list in the records portion of their media guide. If they did, Rayner probably would be chasing that mark, too. He is tied for third in the NFL this year in touchbacks, just three behind the Dolphins Olindo Mare and two behind the Browns Phil Dawson.
With Ryan Longwell the past nine years, the Packers used a variety of placement and directional kickoffs. Longwell said he was never asked to kick it straight and as far as he could. With Rayner and new special teams coach Mike Stock, the philosophy has changed. Depending on weather conditions, the Packers put faith in Rayner to put it into the end zone. That suits his ability.
"He's an aggressive personality as a kicker," said McCarthy. "I think he's talented. I think we all see the talent that he has with his leg strength. I think you're seeing him slow down and kick the ball with a lot more consistency."
Like Rayner, Ryan, too, is becoming more in tune with the NFL game to accompany his raw ability. Coming off a season in the CFL where he set a record with a 50.6-yard per punt average, he is chasing Craig Hentrich's single-season Packers record of 45 yards per punt. Through six games his first year in the NFL, he is at 46.7 yards, good for fourth in the league. No Packer has ever led the NFL in punting in a season.
Ryan has bounced back from a poor start to the season and is starting to work his booming punts more in tune with his coverage unit. In Week 1 against the Bears, Ryan hit a couple of dreadful punts and saw Devin Hester run by him for an 84-yard touchdown. Since then, things have been much better. His net average has improved from 24.3 in the season opener to 37.3 over the next five games.
Return specialist Desmond Howard added a dimension to the Packers on special teams in 1996 that made the unit feel unstoppable. A similar feeling is brewing with Rayner and Ryan. With a little more experience, these "baby boomers" just may be placed among the best in Packers history.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.