- Last Updated: 3:47 AM, October 28, 2012
- Posted: 12:47 AM, October 28, 2012
Today’s Jets-Dolphins clash at MetLife Stadium represents a massive swing game in a highly tenuous season, and if recent history holds true, there is a good chance it will be decided by the swing of Nick Folk’s right leg.
If that becomes the case, consider it good news for the 3-4 Jets, who are desperate to get to their bye week at .500 with healthy postseason hopes intact, despite a first half of the season littered with devastating injuries and some dreadful performances.
Folk is one of the most anonymous players inside the Jets locker room, yet he might be their most consistently clutch performer.
Last week in New England, had it not been for a leaky defense that allowed the Patriots to tie the game at the end of regulation and eventually steal the win, Folk would have been the hero of the game, having kicked two 43-yard field goals within 29 seconds of each other late in the fourth quarter. The first tied the game and the second gave the Jets a 26-23 lead inside of two minutes.
Folk kicked four field goals in that 29-26 overtime loss, including a 54-yarder at the end of the first half.
Special teams coach Mike Westhoff, a tough nut who is not prone to tossing gratuitous bouquets to his players, called Folk’s performance against the Patriots “Herculean.”
Folk has made all 11 of his field goal attempts and in his two-plus seasons with the Jets has kicked four game-winning field goals, including the game-winner in last month’s 23-20 overtime win in Miami.
“There are a lot of areas that we can improve in,’’ Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. “Kicking is not one of them. The guy has been absolutely phenomenal.”
Despite the fact Folk was been a dependable performer in his first two years here, Westhoff made sure he entered training camp without some stiff competition for his job this summer. The Jets signed accomplished veteran Josh Brown. Both kicked very well, but Folk retained his job, narrowly.
“Competing with Josh really helped, because I had to bring a mental focus and attitude every day that today could be my last day here,’’ Folk said. “I still have that right now. That has helped me throughout this whole season.’’
Asked if he brought Brown in simply as camp competition or because he was unsure of Folk, Westhoff said, “It was a combination of both.’’
“There were things we weren’t sure of. There were some inconsistencies that, frankly, I wasn’t always as happy with,’’ Westhoff said. “Nick would make the great kick and all of a sudden he’d miss one, and that was very frustrating, the lack of consistency. So we challenged him.’’
Folk took on the challenge for his livelihood and handled it with the same calm he carries into attempting pressure kicks. Rather than become rattled by the human nature pull that comes with the fear of failure under pressure, he embraced it.
“Pressure is part of the job and you have to embrace it,’’ Folk said. “Pressure is something I’ve enjoyed since I was little. Playing soccer, I was always the fifth shooter in penalty kicks. Throughout the course of games, I always took the penalty shots. I enjoy that feeling. I enjoy going out there and having it all on the line.’’
Punter and holder Robert Malone called Folk “extremely calm under pressure,’’ adding, “I’ve never seen him flustered. He’s just a rock when it comes down to handling the pressure.’’
“He has ice in his veins,’’ said Jets receiver Chaz Schilens, who in Oakland played alongside Sebastian Janikowski, perennially one of the NFL’s best kickers.
Folk may need that ice coursing through his veins, today considering 11 of their past 14 Jets-Dolphins meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
So a swing of his dependable right leg today could catapult the Jets into their bye week with high hopes of a second half rife with postseason possibilities.