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Clutch Lutz: New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz has been integral to team's success

The New Orleans Saints host the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, December 8, 2019.
The New Orleans Saints host the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, December 8, 2019.

Wil Lutz figures he has no choice. Which, in turn, has helped make him one of the best choices the New Orleans Saints ever have made.

Twice this year, the fourth-year kicker has made walk-off field goals – a 58-yarder as time expired in New Orleans' 30-28 victory over Houston in the season opener, and a 33-yarder as the clock struck zeroes in a 34-31 win against Carolina on Nov. 24.

He scored all of the Saints' points in their 12-10 victory over Dallas on Sept. 29, and kicked four field goals against Atlanta on Thanksgiving night in a 26-18 win.

And currently, Lutz, the Pro Bowl leader in votes at his position, has made 14 straight and is 29 for 33 (87.9 percent) this season. He made a franchise-record 26 straight field goals last year, when he finished 28 of 30 during the regular season, and earlier this season he set an NFL record by making his 35th straight road kick.

For the Saints, there likely isn't a better choice than Lutz when it comes to handling the team's kicking duties. Regardless of venue or situation, he has been about as automatic as a player in his position can be.

Clutch Lutz? One of the biggest understatements of the season.

"It's just accepting that where you are is where you're meant to be," Lutz said. "I've always said that you learn through experiences.

"My rookie year was tough (he made 28 of 34 attempts), I was thrown into the fire pretty quick but I wouldn't have asked for it any other way. Mentally, I was able to grow so quick because I didn't really have a choice or I was going to be out of here. It's not necessarily that l learned how to handle these big kicks. I just learned how to make every kick feel the same.

"It's all about how you approach these kicks. I approach these kicks like it's my last and I have no option but to make the kick. It's a little bit of a pessimistic attitude, but that's kind of the way I approach kicks. It's worked for me so far, and I'll only change it if I need to."

His teammates aren't looking for a change, or asking for one.

"Wil (is) clutch," cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. "Everybody knows that. He's won a lot of games for us off of field goals, so we've got much confidence in him."

"Listen, a lot of confidence," quarterback Drew Brees said. "I think that's just the flow and the rhythm of what you create as a team with kind of that – it's that back and forth but man, just give us a chance to drive down and put him in position to kick a game-winner. Or score and put our defense in a situation where they can come up with a big stop or whatever it might be. There's a lot of confidence in him."

That has been evident from the beginning, when Coach Sean Payton signed Lutz, a free agent rookie, on Sept. 6, 2016 – five days before the Saints played their regular-season opener against Oakland, and after a Saints preseason kicking battle from which Kai Forbath had emerged the victor. Lutz had gone through training camp with the Ravens before he'd been released.

New Orleans lost that game 35-34, and Lutz missed a potential game-winner from 61 yards as time expired. But he made 28 of 34 field-goal attempts that season, 31 of 36 the next year and 28 of 30 last year to set the bar for his expected performance.

"Last year's standards were obviously tough to match," he said. "I think the difference is we've been playing such complementary football, that a lot of these kicks have meant more. And to me, that's all you can ask as a specialist, is to play a significant part in the game.

"Obviously, Chicago (he missed two of four kicks in a 36-25 win) was a rough game for me and the worst part about that is selfishly, even when you win, you don't feel like you played a part in it. And so that's hard to handle.

"But I think overall, as a special teams unit and a field goal unit, we're able to say that we've contributed to victories and regardless of stats, that's all that you can ask for."

He's asked, and delivered. The 58-yard walkoff in the season opener is his career long.

"I live for those moments," Lutz said. "That's why I'm in the position I'm in.

"I think the thing that separates kickers who are in the league and who aren't are the guys that can handle those moments. That's the mental side of the game, is who can get the job done when they're called upon. Those kicks this year, those are my favorite kicks of my career."

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