Jake Elliott didn’t talk to anyone before a kick that saved the Eagles season. In the moments before a pressure-packed field goal, the Eagles’ second-year kicker takes “me time.” He visualizes the kick, factoring in the wind and the trajectory.
And then he sent the ball through the uprights from 35 yards away, winning Sunday’s game over the Houston Texans just like he did one month earlier against the New York Giants – and four times in his Eagles career in the final minute of the fourth quarter. He has six total game-winning field goals with the Eagles.
“It’s definitely pressure-packed, but those are the moments we look forward to as kickers,” Elliott told reporters after the game. “You’ve got to enjoy those moments knowing the game’s going to come down to you in this league a lot.”
Elliott didn’t even watch the kick go through the uprights. He said he knows whether it’s a good kick when the ball leaves his foot.
“So right after I hit,” Elliott told reporters, “I pretty much knew.”
Elliott missed an extra point on Sunday that could have been costly, missed an extra point in Dallas that proved to be costly, and he missed four field goals during his career from inside 40 yards. But in late-game situations, Elliott is clutch. Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp told reporters earlier this month that “the bigger the situation is, the better the player is,” which is often the sign of a top kicker.
It’s how Elliott has been since he started kicking. Elliott’s kicking prowess was discovered when he was randomly selected from the crowd in a high school pep rally and boomed a field goal from about 30 yards away. He joined the football team two years later and drilled a 52-yard, game-winning field goal during homecoming. One week later, Elliott kicked another game-winner.
And in the Super Bowl in front of a worldwide audience, Elliott’s 46-yard field goal with 65 seconds remaining gave the Eagles an eight-point lead to ensure the best the Patriots could do was tie the game. That track record of clutch kicking mattered to the Eagles even when Elliott missed a few kicks during the preseason and earlier this year.
“No concern, quite frankly,” coach Doug Pederson said in October. “I have a lot of confidence in him. He can hit it from short, he can hit it from long. A lot of confidence in him.”
Fipp said earlier this month that Elliott is doing a “great job” and the Eagles are “really happy with him.” His teammates believe in him, too. Quarterback Nick Foles called Elliott “one of the best kickers in the league,” and said that Elliott responding with the game-winner after missing the earlier extra point is “what this team is about – just sticking together.”
Elliott is 25 of 30 on field goals through 15 games this season and 30 of 32 on extra points. He played 15 games last season and went 26 of 31 on field goals and 39 of 42 on extra points before going 7 for 7 on field goals in the postseason and 7 of 9 on extra points.
Shorter distances were more of a problem for Elliott last season, who missed three field goals inside 40 yards. This year, he’s missed only one. His misses have mostly been from beyond 50 yards.
“He’s coming off a great year a year ago, so expectations are high,” Fipp said last month. “But when you look at those guys, they fluctuate a little bit up and down. Some of it depends on when they’re kicking, when they’re being asked to kicked, exactly what the distance is. …There’s a lot of variables that go into it.”
Elliott’s even-keeled demeanor is suited well for the position; he doesn’t get flustered before big kicks and he doesn’t allow misses to deject him. Elliott uses a one-minute rule – whether the kick goes through or strays outside the uprights, he gives himself one minute to think about it. Then, he files it away and moves on to the next kick.
Of course, after a game-winner, there’s more time to enjoy the kick. But the Eagles might need Elliott again in a clutch situation on Sunday – and if all goes well, in the weeks after, too.
“When it ends a game, you get to enjoy it a little bit longer,” Elliott told reporters. “Back to work when we get back.”