Longwell talks about pressure and big kicks

Kickers around the league have been getting the boot from their teams after inconsistent performances, and even some of the best have struggled in the playoffs. Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell talked about kicking under pressure and his thoughts on it heading in the NFC Championship Game.

Light up the scoreboard, cue the pyrotechnics and get your popcorn ready. The NFC Championship Game features the top two scoring teams in the league in 2009.

The New Orleans Saints scored 510 points this season – the only team to break the 500-point barrier this year – while the Vikings scored 470. That left the Minnesota only 2 ½ points per game behind the high-flying Saints.

All that scoring might indicate a festival of touchdowns, but what if the game comes down to a field goal? Fan who have followed the NFL closely this year know that the playoffs haven't exactly featured impressive kicking under pressure.

"I've always said the difference between preseason intensity and regular-season intensity is the same jump between regular season and playoffs. It's just there's a lot of moving parts and being a kicker you understand what you sign up for," said Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell. "None of us are above that. Guys will miss tackles, guys will throw interceptions, guys will get blocked and guys will get tackled – but it seems like those are almost OK, so to speak, but the one position that you cannot make a mistake is what we do. Live or die by it, that's what we do."

The Vikings were the benefactor of two missed field goals on Sunday in their divisional-round playoff win against the Cowboys. More than halfway through the first quarter, Cowboys kicker Shaun Suisham failed to give his team an early 3-0 lead when he missed a 48-yard field goal wide left.

The Vikings scored a touchdown on their next possession and never trailed in the game. In the third quarter, trailing 17-3, Suisham missed a 33-yard field goal. Longwell, meanwhile made two short field goals and has missed only two this season – connecting on 26 of 28 attempts.

So how does he deal with kicking under pressure? It's more than just confidence. Part of it, he said, is being able to accept the misses.

"There's two aspects I always take. There's one, you need to set yourself up for success with the same routine, same approach, same mindset that you've had all year, and in my case my whole career," he said. "The second side of the coin is I think you have to be OK with the downside of it. I'm OK with three missed field goals if it comes to that with who I am, but it's kind of when you sign up it's the job. You've got to be OK with that side of it too. Nate (Kaeding) will be fine. He'll be back. (Neil) Rackers will be back. It's just these (playoff) games are under the microscope so they've made it into a big deal."

Longwell was referring to San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding, who missed three field goals in the Chargers' 17-14 loss to the New York Jets. Kaeding had missed only three field goals all season.

Arizona's Neil Rackers hasn't fared much better in the playoffs. He missed a 34-yard field goal attempt with seconds remaining that would have given the Cardinals the win in regulation against the Green Bay Packers in the wild card game. They ended up winning it in overtime on an interception return. Rackers hadn't missed an attempt under 40 yards all season.

Which brings it back to Longwell, who has missed only two attempts all year – a 44-yarder that was blocked against San Francisco and a 39-yarder that hit the right upright in Carolina. But, overall, Longwell has been one of the most consistent kickers in a year that has seen a number of teams changing kickers midseason.

"To go down to the end of a drive and come away with no points is disheartening. To be able to get yourself three points – you would like sevens – it is nice to have a guy that has only missed a couple," Vikings coach Brad Childress said.

While it's very possible that the top two offenses in the league will turn the championship game into a barrage of touchdowns, when they met last year, it was a kicker that won it.

At the end of the first quarter in that Oct. 6, 2008 game in the Superdome, Longwell tied the score 10-10 with a 53-yard field goal. He hit a 33-yarder with four seconds left in the first half to give the Vikings a 20-10 halftime lead. And, finally, he won it with a 30-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining.

The Superdome will be supercharged even more on Sunday with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl.

"It's all about routine for me, so (holder Chris) Kluwe, (long snapper) Cullen (Loeffler) and I will practice this week with no sound between us. It will be a silent field goal," Longwell said. "It worked well for us last year. We had a big game Monday night and kicked the game winner. We're used to it. We've been doing it a long time as a group and it will be amped up even louder than Monday Night Football in the Superdome."


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