The funny thing about Sunday’s Jets-Miami game is that Dolphins punter Brandon Fields got well-deserved praise for his punting. But had the Jets managed to squeak out a touchdown or keep the ‘Fins out of the end zone and come away with the victory, the praiseworthy punter would’ve been Steve Weatherford.
The reason Fields had such long fields to bomb his 10 punts an average of 56.4 yards each was because the Jets defense was holding the Miami offense after Weatherford’s mostly surgical punts. His first three punts on the game were all not only inside-the-20 kicks but inside-the-10‘s. Six of his eight punts were I-20s — the most in a game by a Jets punter since at least 1991. Four were fair-caught, and none were returned.
Yet Weatherford had a punter’s lament when I talked with him this week. His 38.4 gross and 35.9 net just didn’t excite anyone except himself, Mike Westhoff, Ben Kotwica and the punting connoisseurs out there.
“It stinks because it affects your overall numbers for the season,” he said. “That bothers some guys. But at the end of the day, you’re doing the best you can. You’re punting from the 44-yard line and the best [net] punt you can possibly get is 43 yards. I had a punt from the 36 and we were lucky enough to down it at the 1, but still, that’s a 35-yard punt. For most guys, that’s a bad punt.
“But the ability we’ve had to pin guys deep, between myself, Marquice Cole and Dwight Lowery downing the ball, I think that’s really helped our chances of winning the game.”
It will be interesting to see who Weatherford’s flyers are Sunday, since Cole was inactive for Miami and Lowery for the immediate future is a starting safety.
Meanwhile, except for New England, Weatherford’s numbers continue to impress. He’s purring along at 43.2 yards gross and a career-high (so far) 39.0 net, and he continues among the NFL’s leaders in three lesser-known, interrelated and important categories.
■ Weatherford’s six I-20s vs. Miami give him 32 for the season, No. 2 in the league behind only the 34 of Baltimore’s Sam Koch.
■ His 32.9 percent of punts returned is also second, trailing the 28.6 of Jacksonville’s Adam Podlesh.
■ His and his coverage team’s 24 fair catches forced are tops in the league.
Interestlingly, that fair catch number is only one better than Pittsburgh’s 23, and of course the Jets and Steelers will kick it off Sunday at Heinz Field.
But the Steelers lost the guy who forced most of those FCs, Dan Sepulveda to injured reserve. Jeremy Kapinos, a Jet for a game in ’07. Kapinos picked up where Sepulveda left off with three I-20s and two FCs on five punts against the Bengals.
It will be interesting to see whether the current Jet or the former Jet supplies an edge to his team, and whether that edge is steely enough to help his team to victory.
One final note on Fields’ game: His 56.4 gross was the best by an opponent in Jets franchise history (minimum of four punts). And his 49.6 net was the third best vs. the Green & White since 1976.
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Daniel Sepulveda, Dwight Lowery, Jeremy Kapinos, Marquice Cole, Miami Dolphins, PIttsburgh Steelers, Steve Weatherford
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