Lions' Matt Prater kicks aside recent struggles with booming game-winner

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit — With 3 seconds left on the clock in a tie game, Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater ran out onto the field Sunday for a 59-yard field-goal attempt. He had just two things going through his mind.

“Swing hard, hope it goes straight,” Prater said.

He did, and it did. The line-drive attempt was money, time expired, and his Lions teammates walked onto the Ford Field turf victors over the Washington Football Team by a score 30-27. 

Simple enough. In years past, that result would have almost been a given. 

Lions teammates congratulate kicker Matt Prater after his 59-yard, game-winning field goal on Sunday.

Prater, since joining the team in 2014, has been one of the most reliable players on the Lions roster. The two-time Pro Bowler made 86.7% of field goals heading into 2020 with a plethora of big-time kicks to boot.

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This year has been a much different story. Prater converted his attempts at just a 70% clip over the first eight games, and had missed at least one kick in each of the team’s previous four contests.

The 36-year-old Prater, who holds the NFL record for longest successful field goal at 64 yards, had been off target from long distance. He hit just two of five attempts beyond 50 yards heading into this week.

“I would say I’m my harshest critic,” Prater said. “No matter what everyone else is saying or doing, so far this season, I should have been performing at a much higher level.”

It’s appropriate then that after what he called “a better week at practice,” he found himself standing on the Lions logo at midfield, the game on his foot, after already drilling a 53-yarder in the second quarter.

“It’s just a field goal,” Prater said. “I don’t need any more pressure on myself or think it’s anything more than it is. … I haven’t had the best year, but every time I go out, I expect to make them.”

And that’s the exact reason why the Lions haven’t had to play the kicking carousel game for the better part of a decade. 

Even after all of this year’s struggles, Prater believed. So did quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense, who knew they simply needed to get on the other side of midfield to give their guy a chance.

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“We got it close enough for the most clutch kicker in football to do his thing,” Stafford said. “I mean, a 59-yarder to win it, that’s what that guy loves to do and what we love having him for. He’s a special guy in those moments and I was really proud of him today for that.”

The Lions, ultimately, haven’t been done in directly by any of Prater’s miscues thus far. But on the occasions that they’ve picked up a win, the kicker had a hand in it.

Prater was 6-for-7 in Detroit’s wins over Arizona and Jacksonville, and hit two field goals from beyond 50 yards in the Week 7 win at Atlanta, plus the additional two that secured Sunday’s last-second win.

“Hopefully we’ll get in a good rhythm,” Prater said. “The snaps and holds have been good, it’s been on me not coming through. I’ve got to do a better job, and I hope today’s a step in the right direction and I keep making them all."

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.