Feets of strength underlie year of the punter

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
10:16
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AP PhotosShane Lechler and Andy Lee battled to the last snap for the gross punting title and the 2011 Most Valuable Punter award.
The 2011 NFL season is one that will likely best be remembered as the Year of the Quarterback. But it should also be remembered as the Year of the Punter.

This season was a memorable one for those whose best work often goes unnoticed. Please join us in lauding the best Feets of Strength.

Summary
The year’s race for punting statistical supremacy featured a dramatic finish, with San Francisco 49ers punter Andy Lee (50.9) edging out Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler (50.8) for the gross punting title.

Both punted 78 times, but Lee won by finishing with 10 more yards than Lechler, who only punted once in the final game of the season.

Each fell just short of breaking one of sports’ most unbreakable records, the 51.4 yard gross average by Sammy Baugh of the 1940 Washington Redskins.

This season was the first in NFL history in which two punters averaged better than 50 gross yards per punt.

2011 Most Valuable Punter (MVP)
Andy Lee of the 49ers is our inaugural NFL Punter of the Year after winning his first gross yards average title. Lee got his season off on the right foot with one of the best punting performances in NFL history in Week 1, by averaging 59.6 yards per punt (third-best in league history).

He also closed strong. His next-to-last punt of the season was a 64-yarder (downed at the 1) that helped him both win the NFL’s punting title and enabled him to finish with a net punting average of 44.0 for the season, the best by a punter in a single season in the Net Yards Stats Era (since 1976).

Randall Cunningham Award (longest punt)
Shane Lechler had the NFL’s longest punt since 2008, an 80-yarder over Devin Hester ’s head for a touchback in a matchup between the Raiders and Chicago Bears. Lechler also threw for his first career touchdown on a fake field-goal attempt.

Great Guy Award (in honor of the great punter, Ray Guy)
Among those who set franchise records for best punting average in a season were Brandon Fields of the Miami Dolphins (breaking a mark he shared with John Kidd), Brian Moorman of the Buffalo Bills (he has the top four punting seasons in team history), Thomas Morstead of the New Orleans Saints, Mike Scifres of the San Diego Chargers, and Britton Colquitt of the Denver Broncos (breaking the mark of Tom Rouen set in 1998).

The Landeta (good punter, bad punt)
Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan is viewed as a stellar NFL punter but in the third game of the season, he nearly cost the Seahawks in their game against the Arizona Cardinals. Leading by three points with just under three minutes left, Ryan shanked a nine-yard punt, giving the Cardinals reasonable field position (their own 31).

Ryan was able to avoid goat status because the Seahawks defense bailed him out with a game-winning stop.

That is tied for the second-shortest non-blocked punt of the season (Britton Colquitt had a four-yard punt in Week 1 against the Raiders) and matched the shortest punt of Ryan’s career.

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