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    Kicking game wins with 'Wilky'

    By Jim Thomas

    Lost in the "Fitz-mania" that erupted Sunday in Houston were some critical plays by a Rams special-teams unit that has had its ups and downs this season.

    Isaac Bruce's 43-yard touchdown reception from Ryan Fitzpatrick with 26 seconds to play in the fourth quarter would have had cosmetic value only if the Rams had not successfully executed an onside kick afterward.

    Few do it better than Jeff Wilkins.

    "You've got to hit the top of the ball so it hits (the ground) first, then rolls and spirals, and get some height on it," interim head coach Joe Vitt said. "It's not easy to do. It's an art."

    It looks as if Wilkins is simply hitting a form of pooch kick. But as Vitt mentioned, the ball actually hits the ground first - just in front of Wilkins - then caroms high in the air. Otherwise, the opposing player could call a fair catch, just as on a punt.

    "The key is to get him one-on-one, on a jump ball with our guys coming at him, and that's basically what happened," Wilkins said. "I wouldn't want to be that guy, standing there, trying to jump up with our guys coming down on you. Those guys did a great job covering."

    In this case, the unsuspecting target was Houston's Marcus Coleman. Just as the ball arrived in his hands, Coleman got pounded by Trev Faulk, with some help from Drew Wahlroos.

    "Trev knocked the stuffing out of the guy," Torry Holt said.

    "Wilky just kicked another great ball, and it hung up there," Faulk said. "Drew hit the guy low, I hit him high, and the ball sat on my back for a while. The next thing I see, Torry's scooping the ball up and running out of bounds. I'm like, 'OK, we're about to win this.'"

    That's right, Torry Holt. You don't see too many four-time Pro Bowlers playing special teams, but Holt's recovery was as big as any of his 10 catches Sunday.

    "I try to do whatever I'm asked to do to help this football team win," Holt said. "But to be honest with you, I don't want to be doing that every Sunday. I've had a good experience doing it, which was (against Houston). And I've had a bad experience - up in Denver a couple years ago - when Shannon Sharpe knocked the mess out of me. I started to tell them to pull me off that team."

    But he's still doing it, which is something you wouldn't see, say, Terrell Owens doing. Right?

    "Torry Holt's not Terrell Owens," Vitt corrected. "But that's Torry. You put your best players out there. Game's on the line, he wants to be out there."

    According to STATS Inc., there have been 36 onside kicks in the NFL this season. Only five have been successful, a success rate of less than 14 percent. But two of those five have been by Wilkins and the Rams. They occurred in back-to-back games - the Rams also recovered an onside kick Nov. 20 against Arizona.

    Nothing came of that recovery, by Dane Looker, against the Cardinals with 33 seconds to play. But the recovery against Houston fueled one of the greatest last-minute comebacks in league history.

    Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, it is only the second game where a team scored 10 or more points in the final 30 seconds to tie or win a game. In 2001, Chicago scored 14 points in the final 30 seconds to tie Cleveland, then won in overtime 27-21.

    After the recovered onside kick, Wilkins nailed a 47-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining to send the Houston game into overtime tied 27-27. Granted, the wind was to his back, but Wilkins hit the ball so well it would've been good from 57 yards.

    "Great snap, great hold," Wilkins said. "It's one of those things where when it's a good kick, you don't remember it. And that's kind of what it was - I really don't remember it."

    Wilkins capped his day by starting overtime with a kickoff that carried to the back of the end zone, forcing Jerome Mathis - at the time, the league's top kickoff returner - to take a touchback.

    "Wilky's the best kicker I've ever been around," Vitt said. "You talk about a gamer, now. He hits the 47-yarder like he's hitting an 8-iron. Boom. It's gone. He comes back, gets the onside kick. Perfection. They had no chance.

    "Then comes back against the best kickoff return guy in the league and knocks it to the back of the end zone. Huge. He's just the consummate professional. The tougher the situation, the more he enjoys it."

    The late-game heroics by the special-teams unit helped erase the sting of a kickoff boondoggle at the end of the first half. With 58 seconds left in the half, the Rams tried a pooch kickoff, trying to keep Mathis from hurting them with a long return.

    It appeared to work out well when Mathis fumbled and the Rams recovered on the Houston 34. But Chris Johnson was offside on the play. On the re-kick, the Rams tried another pooch, and this time it was returned 40 yards by Jonathan Wells to the St. Louis 29. That led to a back-breaking Houston TD and what appeared to be an insurmountable 24-3 halftime lead.

    "I'm kind of learning on the run," Vitt said. "If that situation ever comes up again, we're going to kick the thing away. Because if you can't cover a kick, you don't deserve to win a game."

  2. #2
    CanadianRam! Guest

    Re: Kicking game wins with 'Wilky'

    Wilkens is definitely one of the best kickers in the NFL!!

    GO rams and wilky


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