|ESPN.com: AFC East||[Print without images]|
|James Lang/US Presswire|
|Jay Feely relishes the opportunity to kick game-winning field goals.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- When discussing which New York Jets player will be most critical to winning or losing on a weekly basis, the candidates are obvious: Mark Sanchez, Kellen Clemens, Thomas Jones, Bart Scott, Kris Jenkins.
Mostly overlooked is kicker Jay Feely.
The Jets seem like a team that will play a lot of tight games down to the final gun. They intend to rely on their defense and a relentless running attack. There's a good chance they'll have a rookie starting quarterback.
Games frequently could be decided by Feely's right foot.
New coach Rex Ryan knows the value of a trustworthy kicker. In Ryan's four seasons as Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, they led the AFC in field goals attempted and made.
"That's how they play," Feely said of Ryan's time with the Ravens. "They were going to play great defense. They weren't going to turn the ball over. They were going to win games through special teams.
"Matt Stover won a lot of games for them. The year they won the Super Bowl, they had six games where they didn't score a touchdown."
Ryan wasn't the defensive coordinator then, just the defensive line coach. But his experience in winning a Super Bowl ring cemented his philosophy.
From 2005 through 2008, when Ryan was Baltimore's coordinator, Matt Stover made 113 field goals on 132 tries. Only Arizona Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers was busier.
Even more remarkable were Stover's numbers in the fourth quarter. He converted 96.6 percent of those kicks, missing once on 29 attempts. In the final two minutes, Stover was 8 of 9.
"Rex and I have talked about that," Feely said. "That was a priority for him, to have a kicker that he trusted. I liked that.
"I love playing for him. I love his mentality that he's not scared to say what he believes. I think the players rally around that."
His stats aren't as impressive as Stover's, but Feely has delivered clutch field goals. He has kicked five winners on the final play of a game, including a 34-yarder in sudden death to beat the New England Patriots last year in Gillette Stadium.
Feely hopes to be put in more of those pressure-packed situations.
"My goal is to be the best kicker in the NFL, and part of that is having an opportunity to kick a lot of field goals," Feely said. "You kick four or five game-winners, you're going to have an opportunity to be considered one of the best kickers in the NFL."
Feely's no shrinking violet. Although he plays a position that many hardcore football types believe should be seen and never heard from, he's about as accessible as an NFL player can get. He's involved in myriad charities. He's a frequent panelist on talk shows -- to discuss politics. He tweets with regularity.
His extroverted personality is the main reason Miami Dolphins football administration boss Bill Parcells released him last summer and went with an undrafted rookie. Money also played a role, but Parcells has no patience for chatty kickers.
But there was a time Feely endured public humiliation on national television.
In an overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in 2005, Feely, in his first season with the New York Giants, missed three potential game-winning field goals. He missed from 40 yards at the final gun. He missed from 54 yards and 45 yards in sudden death.
"Saturday Night Live" responded with a skit called "The Long Ride Home: The Jay Feely Story." On the five-hour flight back from Seattle, the pilot passes out. Feely (played by comedian Dane Cook) is desperate for redemption. With his teammates staring daggers at him, he lies about having a pilot's license and tries to guide the plane through two skyscrapers. Feely veers the plane wide right.
"I was reading Tony Dungy's book this year, 'Uncommon,' and he talked about the definition of toughness," Feely said. "He sai
d it was a guy who fails on a grand stage but doesn't shy away, picks himself up and responds to it in the right manner and keeps pressing on. That's kicking right there."
Feely said the "SNL" gag "actually was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career because afterward you look back and think, 'Well, I couldn't have failed any greater.' But it didn't break me.
"It takes the fear out of making a mistake. Since that game I've been one of the best kickers in the NFL. Once you go through failure, it tests your character."
From 2005 on, Feely ranks third on tries of 40 yards or longer. He has made 75.6 percent. Stover made 68.9 percent. By comparison, Adam Vinatieri has made only 61.3 percent of kicks from 40 yards and out over that span.
Being turned into a national punch line didn't deter Feely's intrepidness. Another reason he excited about kicking for the Jets again this year is esteemed special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.
Feely praised Westhoff's daring approach. Two years ago, when Feely was kicking for the Dolphins, he barely could contain his displeasure over not being allowed to try field goals with a high degree of difficulty.
Then-rookie head coach Cam Cameron (who was Baltimore's offensive coordinator in 2008) was cautious. Feely's numbers showed that. He set a Dolphins club record by making 91.3 percent of his field goal attempts, but only one longer than 50 yards.
"Mike's not afraid of anything," Feely said. "That's what I love about playing for Mike Westhoff. He's got guts. He's willing to try something and fail.
"He and Rex are not scared to fail or look bad. They want to win."