METAIRIE — When the Houston Texans struck for a touchdown with 37 seconds left Monday night, New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz and long snapper Zach Wood had a reaction similar to most of the fans inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“For a second we were like, ‘holy cow,’” Lutz said.
It took the Texans two tries to make a tie-breaking extra point after they missed their first opportunity but took advantage of the second after a penalty on the Saints for a 28-27 lead.
Then Lutz, Wood and holder/punter Thomas Morstead went to work while a television timeout played out, then the kickoff and a touchback.
“Obviously with 37 seconds left I was up on my feet right away and had to start my routine a little earlier once we got the ball,” Lutz said. “We have a few plays, so I was ready the second we had the ball to be prepared to kick a field goal whether we were going to get the opportunity or not.”
Lutz went over to the “sticks” that simulate a hold and started kicking balls into a net while Morstead started his routine, which begins with “a little run down to the end zone and back” before he started working with Wood on the snap and hold.
Drew Brees led the Saints offense onto the field at the New Orleans 25 with one timeout to work with.
“We knew we had a timeout,” Morstead said, “so we knew it wasn’t going to be like a crazy Mayday where we all have to run on and kick it — at least until that changes.”
It didn’t change as Brees saved the timeout until the last moment. As Brees went to work, Wood and Morstead were working on the north end of the field while Lutz worked on the south end.
It’s the routine they always follow and under normal circumstances, Morstead would be positioned to go on the field and punt if that’s what the circumstances would call for.
“I don’t see Wil for most of the game,” Morstead said. “We’re kind of in two different worlds.”
Meanwhile Brees threw a 15-yard completion to Ted Ginn Jr., then spiked the ball to stop the clock with 20 seconds left.
Then Brees threw an 11-yard completion to Michael Thomas and spiked the ball to top the clock with six seconds left.
Then Brees threw a 9-yard completion to Ginn and called that timeout with two seconds left.
Brees had moved the Saints into position for Lutz to try a 58-yard field goal at the south goal post. It was the same end of the field where Lutz had been wide left from 56 yards on the final play of the first half, though he did have the distance.
As the kicking team went on the field for the potential game-winning kick, Lutz asked Morstead to give him “a little forward lean” on the hold.
“You have probably a half-inch sweet spot on a football to kick it and when you lean it forward you get a little bigger area to hit,” Lutz explained.
But the forward lean comes with a risk.
“When you lean the ball forward a bit it kind of helps you kick the ball a little lower but you get it to drive farther, which when you’re kicking a long, long kick that could be the difference,” said Morstead, who doubled as a place-kicker at SMU and is New Orleans’ emergency kicker. “You don’t want to come up short on a game-winner.
“It’s a risk you take that the ball’s going to be a little bit lower, but you need the distance so you take that chance.”
Wood couldn’t make any adjustment to his snap to help on the long kick.
“To me it’s the same eight yards every time,” he said. “If I let the fact that it’s a long field goal creep into my head it can cause some issues so I try to block all that out and focus on my eight yards.”
Wood’s snap was perfect as was Morstead’s custom-ordered hold and Lutz “smoked it,” Morstead said.
The ball wasn’t halfway to the goal posts before Lutz and Morstead started celebrating while all the other players waited for the kick to play out.
“I knew how it sounded, how it felt and we’re in a dome so there’s no wind,” Morstead said. “As soon as you see the ball flight relatively quickly you know whether it’s on line or not. It wasn’t close. It was right down the middle.”
Wood didn’t have as good a vantage point as Lutz and Morstead, but he too knew pretty quickly that the Saints were going to win – though he was more subdued about it.
“As soon as I looked up I knew it was going to be good, but I just wanted to watch it go all the way in,” Wood said. “I wanted to enjoy the moment. I just loved watching that ball go down the middle.”
Lutz, who also made field goals of 32 and 47 yards, was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, though he kept his entire performance in perspective – as kickers must.
“Obviously that was a big kick at the end of the game,” Lutz said, “but I don’t think it’s a silver lining or makes the miss any easier on me.”