Detroit — It was the biggest punt of Sam Martin’s young NFL career, and he shanked it.
“I’ve got really no excuse for it,” he said. “In a situation like that, typically you’re expecting a heavy rush and that’s what I was expecting, so I rushed myself trying to get it off to prevent a block.
“And I just pulled it.”
With 34 seconds left in regulation at Ford Field Sunday, the Lions and Bengals were tied at 24, and the Lions offense couldn’t capitalize on a potential game-winning drive. A big kick by Martin — like the 65-yarder like he hit earlier in the game — would’ve made it incredibly difficult for the Bengals to score before the end of regulation, especially since they had only one timeout remaining.
Instead, Martin rushed because he expected the Bengals to sellout for the block and hit it left and out of bounds at midfield. And with 26 seconds left, the Bengals didn’t need much to reach field-goal range.
Cincinnati gained 15 yards combined on its next two plays, called the timeout and sent Mike Nugent out for a 54-yard field goal, which he made to give the Bengals a 27-24 victory as time expired.
The Lions had opportunities to take the lead or stifle the Bengals offense, but because of the situation, Martin knows his punt will be a lasting memory.
“It came down to that play at the end of the game, so that’s what you see and that’s the immediate thought,” Martin said. “I don’t think anyone’s (in) the wrong for thinking that. I should’ve hit a better punt.”
Martin’s punt overshadows what has been an otherwise fantastic start in the NFL after being drafted in the fifth round this year. Entering Sunday’s game, Martin ranked third in the NFL averaging 48.9 yards per punt, and his 43.1-yard net ranked fourth. Even with the 28-yarder, Martin averaged 43.3 yards per punt Sunday and had his other three downed inside the 20.
Lions players came to the rookie punter’s defense after the game.
“You don’t blame anything on Sam,” wide receiver Kris Durham said.
Safety Glover Quin said the punt put the defense in a tough spot, but the unit still had a chance to keep the Bengals from scoring.
“We stop them two yards short, and he misses that field goal,” Quin said. “It just comes with it. It’s a team game. Everybody plays off everybody, and that’s the situation we were put in. We’ve got to do a better job of executing and stopping them.”
Although it was a pressure-packed situation, Martin said anxiety didn’t play a role in the result.
“It had nothing to do with the pressure,” he said. “It was the simple fact that I thought they were going to try blocking the punt and I rushed myself. And I was trying to put the ball on the sideline to keep it away from the returner, and I pulled it.”
Before the final punt, Martin said he and the coaches expected the Bengals to try to block the punt, so he knew he had to boot it quickly. The Bengals, though, didn’t bring any pressure, but in the moment, Martin didn’t have time to recognize he could’ve taken it slow.
“They block it and they score a touchdown, then what?” Martin said. “Then we’re having the same conversation about a blocked punt.”