NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints burned through 11 different kickers in Sean Payton’s first 11 years as head coach. But they finally found a keeper when they signed Baltimore Ravens castoff Wil Lutz during Week 1 of the 2016 season.
And he made history for them Monday night with a game-winning 58-yard field goal as time expired in the Saints’ 30-28 victory over the Houston Texans.
Not only was it a career long for Lutz, but it was the longest field goal in the final 10 seconds of any season-opening game since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“We all felt like it was going to happen the minute we heard that ball go off his foot,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “It was a thundering kick, and we all knew it was going in the uprights.”
That’s not hyperbole, either — well, not totally. The Saints were so confident in Lutz’s leg that receiver Ted Ginn Jr. appeared to celebrate after he caught a pass at the Texans’ 40-yard line with 2 seconds left because he felt that was close enough to win it.
“We all knew,” Saints running back Alvin Kamara said. “We see him do it in practice. If we get Wil in position, we knew he could hit it.”
Lutz actually missed a 56-yard attempt wide left before halftime Monday night. But he finished the game 3-for-4 on field goal attempts. And last season, he made 28 of 30 before the Saints signed him to one of the richest kicker deals in the NFL (five years, $20.25 million).
The Saints obviously had more success borrowing a young kicker from the Ravens than the Minnesota Vikings just did (Minnesota traded a fifth-round pick to Baltimore for kicker Kaare Vedvik this summer, only to cut him weeks later).
But part of that was because the Saints stuck with the undrafted rookie from Georgia State even when he had a couple early wobbles in 2016 — including a missed 61-yard attempt that would have won the game in his NFL debut.
Lutz brought up that game Monday night when asked how much pride he takes in the ultimate confidence that the Saints have in him.
“You know, it’s crazy. It brings back a memory. And the only reason I thought about it today is because Brad Seely is [the Texans’ special-teams] coach. He was the Oakland coach my first game ever when I missed a 61-yarder left. And Coach [Payton] stood up here and told me that he still had confidence in me,” Lutz said. “And it kinda gives me chills thinking about that. And here we are three years later so it’s pretty wild.”
Like most kickers, Lutz talks all the time about trying to keep the process the same for every kick. But he admitted Monday, “I gotta be honest, that one felt a little different.”
“Obviously I’m confident in what I do. I’m confident in my operation. I knew with 37 seconds left that we were going to have an opportunity to get at least close to field goal range. In that situation, there’s not a single kick I’d turn down,” Lutz said. “You know, we talk about the ebbs and flows of a game, the first half didn’t go my way. And that’s what this game is all about is bouncing back and being able to have your teammates have your back and make a kick like that.
“That’s gotta be — that’s gotta be a top-one moment for me.”