Clutch Prater puts the boot through miscues

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The makes don’t stick with Matt Prater, it’s the misses.

It’s not that the Lions kicker is fixated on his shortcomings, he just doesn’t want to repeat his mistakes. That’s a theme that’s played out on and off the field.

A mistake is the main reason Prater is in Detroit. Following a 2011 DUI arrest, he was enrolled in the NFL’s substance abuse program. A failed test three years later netted him a four-game suspension and facilitated the end of his seven-year stint with the Broncos, despite coming off a Pro Bowl season.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for the Lions. The team’s kicking game had been in turmoil since Jason Hanson’s retirement 18 months earlier, and Prater, who had served as Hanson’s backup during training camp in 2006, was a perfect solution.

As least as long as he didn’t repeat mistakes. Another failed test would result in a year-long ban.

More than two years later, that’s not been an issue. Prater remains in the substance abuse program. He’s still subjected to one or two tests per week, but passed each one. He credits the strong support system around him, from teammates Sam Martin and Don Muhlbach to the Lions coaches and front office.

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But nothing has been more stabilizing than his wife, Kati, and their 10-month-old son, Pax.

Prater met Kati at an ugly Christmas sweater party in Denver. They didn’t start dating for a few years, finally marrying in April 2015.

“She’s great,” Prater said. “I don’t ever have to worry about anything.”

On the field, it’s Prater who has been great, even if he only remembers the misses.

“I’m more of a guy that tries to fix things that I’ve messed up on this year,” Prater said. “At the end of the year, I’ll look back and decide whether I’ve had a good year or didn’t have as good of a year and try to improve, so I don’t make the same mistakes the following year.”

There’s more story to be written, but it’s shaping up to be a fairy-tale season for the 10-year veteran. Prater has been one of the biggest contributors in a series of seven come-from-behind victories that have the Lions holding pole position in the NFC North race with five games remaining.

He’s made all six field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter when he’s had an opportunity to tie the game or give the Lions the lead. Four of those have been winners that have come in the final two minutes. A fifth, a season-long 58-yarder, sent a game into overtime that ended in a victory.

When he steps on the field in a game-deciding situation, there’s a uniform confidence that pervades across the organization he’ll make it.

“It’s beautiful,” safety Glover Quin said. “I have zero nerves at all. ... Regardless of the distance, I feel like if we had to, I would kick a 65-yarder with him.”

Prater’s efforts have earned him player of the week honors twice, only the third Lions player who can make that claim in a single season, along with Hanson and Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. Prater also was named the NFC’s player of the month Thursday.

Prater downplays those awards, but can admit how much he’s enjoying coming through in pressure situations with games on the line.

“As a kicker, I feel that’s why (Adam) Vinatieri is considered one of the greatest in history, because he’s been in big moments on national TV, Super Bowls, AFC Championships,” Prater said. “As a kicker, you are hoping just for the opportunity to have last-second kicks like that.”

Those opportunities have been plentiful for Prater this season and he’s come through every time. Maybe it’s time to stop focusing on the misses because the makes have been pretty special.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

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