ALLEN PARK — If Matt Prater ever offers you salt water taffy just say no.
The Lions placekicker owns a contraption that when opened for “taffy” a rubber mouse appears instead.
He gets the biggest kick out of it. (See what I did there.)
When Jim Caldwell was asked about Prater’s professionalism and his personality, he chortled. Not a usual reaction from the somewhat staid coach.
(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)
He was thinking practical jokes. When it gets down to the business of kicking the 32-year-old Prater is serious.
“First of all, the first thing you notice is that he is very disciplined, very dedicated to his craft. Extremely, extremely critical of his performance in terms of practice. I mean it means a lot to him. You’d think sometimes in practice that he’s kicking in the Super Bowl to win the game,’’ Caldwell said. “I mean that’s how he approaches things. But he is a true professional. Constant expert at what he does. He spends time at it. He thinks about it. He lives it. He breathes it. And you sometimes would think a guy like that would be fairly narrowed focused that there was not much time for a little levity in his life but he’s got a pretty good sense of humor.’’
For all the fun he brings, Prater is one of the best kickers in the NFL. On Wednesday he was named the NFC special teams player of the month.
Prater sets team and NFL kicking records nearly every week.
The two 55-plus field goal he kicked in the loss to the Falcons on Sunday were his third and fourth of the season from that distance. It makes him the first kicker in NFL history to make four 55-plus yard field goals in a season. And, of course, he did it in just three games.
Prater also now holds the four longest field goals in Lions history (57, 58, 58. 59).
The Lions play at the Vikings on Sunday where Prater nailed a 58-yard field goal with 23 seconds left to send the game to overtime last year. The Lions won on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Golden Tate. If not for Prater they wouldn’t have had a chance to win. It was his third field goal that Sunday and his second of more than 50 yards in that game.
“He’s doing a heck of a job. I mean he’s great. On offense, we’re trying to score touchdowns. We want to make his job easy and kick extra points. We haven’t done a good enough job of that lately whether it’s getting into that red zone and finishing or converting on some of those third downs when we’re in the red zone,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday. “So, hopefully we’ll make his job easier and he’s kicking a bunch of one-pointers but man, he’s been great kicking the three-pointers for us too.”
Stafford said he doesn’t necessarily watch ever Prater field goal attempt.
“Lots of times, especially at home when it’s kind of quiet, I just listen and you can hear it when it hits his foot. Either hits it good or he doesn’t, and majority of the time he hits it good, and he’s been doing a heck of a job,’’ Stafford said. “That whole operation has been great. He’s done a great job. I mean he’s had a couple different guys holding for him this year already, and those guys have stepped in and done a great job getting it down. He’s been kicking it great.”
Prater has been a perfect six-of-six on field goals and also seven-of -seven on point-after attempts in three games. He’s scored 25 of the team’s 85 points in the first three games.
“It’s huge and I realized how huge it is during my first year here (2014) when we were going through kickers pretty quickly until we found Prater,’’ Tate said.
In 2014 Lions kicker Nate Freese made just three of seven field goals in the first three games to earn a ticket out of town. Then the Lions brought in Alex Henery who missed three field goals in week 5 in a 17-14 loss to the Bills.
That’s when the Lions signed Prater who had been let go by the Broncos after serving a four-game suspension.
“He’s big time. This guy there’s no such thing as a moment being too big for him. He’s showing up week in and week out just handling business,’’ Tate said. “It’s a good feeling once you get to the 50, 40 or 30 you know chances are he can hit those.’’