Tuesday, October 19, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

Sean Landeta has been doing it for 20 years. So, it is no surprise that he continues to be one of the league’s best punters.

There aren’t many jobs in professional sports where an athlete can do his job at the game’s highest level for so long. Even the second lefthanded pitcher out of the bullpen in baseball doesn’t have Landeta’s longevity.

Landeta’s work has earned him a pair of Pro Bowl trips, one in 1987 and another in 1991. If he keeps up his pace, he will add another trip, giving him three, one in three different decades. That kind of long-term production is rarely found in any job.

After a solid performance against Seattle one week ago, Landeta kicked with the vigor and power of a 20-year old against Tampa Bay on Monday night. He punted five times for 251 yards, an average of 50.2 per kick.

Landeta’s performance earned him NFC Special Teams player of the week honors, the seventh time in his career he has won the award.

Rams’ coach Mike Martz said Landeta is kicking as well as ever.

“I couldn’t be more happy with Sean Landeta,” Martz said. “Sean was just terrific… so I am very pleased with his efforts.”

At one point about five minutes into the third quarter, Landeta boomed a 61-yard punt that cornerback Dwight Anderson downed at Tampa Bay’s 4. Anderson, however, ran out of bounds and was the first to touch the ball, resulting in a 5-yard penalty and the nullification of the punt.

No mind to Landeta, though, as he went on to take his mulligan and kick it 63 yards, before it was downed by Anderson at the Buccaneers’ 7. Earlier in the game, Landeta dropped a punt in the right corner that Anderson downed at Tampa Bay’s 4.

St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk said even he was as shocked as anyone by Landeta’s performance.

“He was booming the ball,” Faulk said. “I told him, he’s probably going to mess up his average kicking like that (and) people are going to know that you kick it like that and then you have a not go good game, then what happens to him? People are going to think he can’t kick anymore. He surprised me tonight (Monday), not just you guys.”

Maybe Landeta surprised many on Monday night with his performance, but anyone who has been in the league for 20 years is clearly there for a reason. Landeta is no exception.

CENTURY MARK: It wasn’t a typical Faulk touchdown run, but it was a historic one. Faulk’s 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter was the 100th of his career, making him just the sixth player in league history to rush for triple digits in touchdowns.

The run didn’t feature any of Faulk’s patented jukes or spins, but instead was an act of sheer will, something that Faulk has never had in short supply. After appearing to be stopped on the fourth-and-goal from the 1 play, Faulk surged forward with a second effort and reached the ball across the plain of the goal line for the score.

Ever the humble future Hall-of-Famer, Faulk said the century mark meant more to him than an individual achievement.

“It was good, I think it tied the game up,” Faulk said. “So, that got us a tie ball game and put us back to 0-0 heading into the half. That was a good feeling.”

Martz was less subdued than Faulk, saying that he wanted to do something special for his star running back’s historic feat. He wouldn’t reveal what that entails, but did want to point out the difficulty of such an accomplishment.

“That will be a personal issue, really, but that is so special to achieve obviously that is something we are going to address,” Martz said.

TACKLING MACHINE?: Kicker Jeff Wilkins missed two field goals Monday night, a stunning development, but not surprising after finding out why he missed.

On the Rams’ first kickoff after scoring in the first quarter, Wilkins made a touchdown-saving tackle on Tampa Bay receiver Torrie Cox. As if from nowhere, Wilkins chased down Cox and tackled him. Wilkins sprained his left ankle on the play, and had trouble planting on his field goal attempts from 56 and 44 yards.

He made another tackle after the opening kickoff of the second half. Wilkins proved once again why he is a team captain, doing more than the average kicker.

Martz said Wilkins continues to impress with his all-out approach to the game and physical skills.

“I was teasing him; he is going to have to start playing for us in the secondary,” Martz said. “He’s a rocket, I didn’t realize he was that fast. We have always said he is not just a kicker, he’s a football player. A lot of times, there is a difference, (but) not in this situation.”

So, can we expect Wilkins to join Adam Archuleta and Aeneas Williams at safety next week?

“He probably could; he is that kind of an athlete,” Martz said. “I tell you what; I would not say that he cannot.”

NEXT UP: The Rams travel to Miami for a Sunday matchup against the 0-6 Dolphins. St. Louis doesn’t expect an easy game because of Miami’s stout defense and going in on short rest could make things slightly more difficult.

As in the past, with the Rams coming off a Monday Night game, Martz said he will give the team two days off to physically recover, and will resume practice Thursday.