AFC East: Shaun Suisham

Conditions critical: Kickers in the spotlight

January, 20, 2011
In the AFC playoffs last weekend, two of the NFL's great rivalries completed in-season trilogies.

What emerged is a matchup that looks nothing like a storied rivalry.

The New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers have met only once in the postseason. The Steelers beat them 20-17 in overtime six years ago.

That game also took place on Heinz Field's notoriously treacherous kicking surface, and two missed field goals in the final 120 seconds proved deadly. Jets kicker Doug Brien struck the crossbar on a 46-yard attempt at the two-minute warning and was wide left on a 43-yard attempt as the fourth quarter expired.

Heinz Field hasn't gotten any more luxurious since then.

Jets coach Rex Ryan said Thursday he expects Sunday's game to be decided by a late field goal.

"That's what's going to happen," Ryan said. "This is going to be one of those games. I don't see a team blowing the other team out. This is going to be hard-fought all the way to the end."

In Wednesday's edition of the "Big Question," we examined Nick Folk's inconsistencies this season. He has made all four of his career kicks at Heinz Field, including from 25 and 34 yards in a Week 15 victory over the Steelers.

Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, who was the Jets' kicker last year, recently handicapped the venues, kickers and punters in Sunday's conference championship games for ESPN.

"You have bad footing, cold weather, which you can't kick the ball as far, and you add the wind," Feely said of Pittsburgh and Chicago. "Heinz Field is historically the toughest place in the NFL footing-wise, kicking-wise. It'll impact the distance of your kicks and punts."

The Jets didn't re-sign the reliable Feely after last season because letting him go allowed them to sign outside linebacker Jason Taylor under weird free-agency rules for the uncapped season. The Jets signed Folk to replace Feely.

"There's a part of me that watches them and says 'Man, I wish I was still playing,' " Feely said. "I wish my team had been better and we had gotten into the playoffs because you want to be in those games. You want to play in those championship games. That's what players play for and live for.

"I'm OK as long as they don't win the Super Bowl because that'll crush me."

Rapid Reaction: Steelers 19, Bills 16

November, 28, 2010
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills nearly came back to win Sunday, but lost 19-16 in overtime to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

What it means: The Bills hung tough again and showed more growth despite defeat. The game felt like a blowout at halftime, with the Steelers holding the ball for nearly 24 minutes. But the Bills trailed just 13-0, first tied the score with 11:25 to play and forced overtime on a 49-yard Rian Lindell field goal with two seconds left.

Play of the game: Breakout receiver Steve Johnson had an awful afternoon. He dropped five passes, including one while wiiiiiide open in the end zone for what should have been a 40-yard touchdown 4:30 into sudden death.

Great call wasted: Down 16-13 with about 4:30 left, Chan Gailey chose to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Steelers' 36-yard line. Ryan Fitzpatrick found Johnson for a 10-yard gain to put the Bills in field goal range. One play later, the Bills had a first down at the 15 and a chance to win. Two plays later, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu made a great play to intercept a ricocheted pass.

Fitzpatrick struggled: Fitzpatrick was off on his throws most of the day. He had a 49.4 passer rating at halftime. He finished 23 of 45 for 265 yards and threw a touchdown pass for a 12th straight game, but running back Fred Jackson was responsible for that 65-yard catch and run. Fitzpatrick did throw a gorgeous ball on Johnson's end zone flub.

Kyle Williams on Pro Bowl trail: He plays more like a defensive end than a nose tackle, but Williams is having a great season for Buffalo. Williams picked up two sacks in the second quarter, giving him a career-high five for the season.

What's next: The Bills will visit Minnesota Vikings next Sunday at the Metrodome.

Quirky kicking impacts all AFC East games

November, 8, 2010
What a crazy Sunday for kicking in the AFC East.

A 300-pounder tried an extra point in one game. A receiver tried an extra point in another game.

Players who have been automatic couldn't convert.

Buffalo Bills kicker Rian Lindell went into Sunday with 321 consecutive extra points, the NFL record to start a career. The Chicago Bears blocked one. The evaporated point made two-point conversions appropriate. The Bears converted one, but the Bills didn't in a 22-19 loss.

The NFL named Miami Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter special teams player of the month a few days ago. Carpenter missed a 46-yard field goal attempt that would have pulled the Dolphins within a touchdown of the Baltimore Ravens early in the fourth quarter. Carpenter had made 13 in a row.

Nick Folk made a 36-yarder as the fourth quarter expired and a 30-yarder in sudden death to beat the Detroit Lions 23-20. Regular kicker Jason Hanson was hurt, and Lions rookie defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh was the emergency replacement. Suh hit the right upright on an extra point in the third quarter.

New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker made his extra point in a 34-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a thigh injury. Welker, who has played a lot of soccer, said he never has practiced that kind of situation and hasn't kicked a football in years.

"You don't really expect that to happen," Welker said, and then added sarcastically, "As you can see, it's an easy job."

The Elias Sports Bureau noted the last day two non-kickers (players whose listed position were not kicker or punter) attempted extra points was Sept. 9, 1979. San Diego Chargers quarterback Cliff Olander and New Orleans Saints running back Tony Galbreath took their cuts. reporter Mike Reiss mentioned the Patriots might look to Shane Graham or Shaun Suisham as a free-agent possibility if Gostkowski's injury is serious enough to warrant another leg.