NOBODY USUALLY notices a kicker until he screws up. The fact that we've really only noticed Alex Henery twice this season is a pretty good indication that the rookie out of Nebraska has had a pretty good year.
The two times we've noticed him came in the same quarter of the same game. The fourth quarter of the Eagles' 24-23, Week 4 loss to the 49ers.
Henery, who was the most accurate kicker in college football history, had a chance to turn a fragile, six-point lead into a comfy, nine-point advantage early in the fourth quarter, but sent a 39-yard field-goal attempt wide right.
Given an opportunity for redemption on the Eagles' next possession, he was wide right again with an even shorter, 33-yard attempt.
After his second miss, the Niners drove 77 yards on eight plays to score the go-ahead touchdown. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since that day, Henery, who was taken in the fourth round of the April draft by the Eagles, has been perfect. He's nailed his last 11 field-goal attempts, though just one of them was longer than 43 yards.
If the 6-8 Eagles end up missing the playoffs by a game, those missed field-goal attempts will be just two of the many "if only" moments that will haunt the team and its fans in the offseason. Right along with:
* Kurt Coleman's missed tackle on Early Doucet on Doucet's game-winning touchdown in the Eagles' 21-17 loss to the Cardinals.
* LeSean McCoy's holding penalty on the Eagles' final drive in the Arizona game that negated a 14-yard completion to Riley Cooper that would have given the Eagles a first down in Arizona territory with 41 seconds left.
* Jeremy Maclin slipping and coming up a yard short of a first down on a do-or-die, fourth-and-10 play at the end of the Eagles' 30-24 loss to the Bears.
* The interception that went in and out of Jason Avant's hands in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' 31-24 loss to the Bills.
* Juqua Parker inexplicably jumping offsides on fourth-and-1 late in the Bills game and costing the Eagles an opportunity to get the ball back.
* Maclin's game-costing fumble against the Niners following Henery's two misses.
Henery said he doesn't give much thought to the two misses against the Niners or the 11 straight he's made since. Kickers, like baseball closers, must have short memories.
"It was a long time ago that I missed those. You just go week by week," said Henery, who has made 20 of 23 field-goal attempts this season. His only other miss besides the two against the Niners was a 63-yard, nothing-to-lose attempt at the end of the half of the Eagles' Week 2 loss to Atlanta.
"After your last kick, you put it behind you and focus on your next kick. It's kind of a mind-set thing. You've got to have short-term memory. I think I do that pretty well. You've got to get over it and move on.
"I don't really dwell on things that happened. If somebody wants to blame me [for the Eagles not making the playoffs], there's nothing I can do about it. But I've moved on. It's more about what I can do now than what I did in the past."
Henery says he doesn't pay any attention to his numbers. Swears he didn't even know he was 20-for-23 this season, or that he has made 11 field-goal attempts in a row until a reporter informed him.
"You don't really think about your numbers or anything like that," he said. [Punter] Chas [Henry] just asked me what I was and I didn't even know how many I had made or anything like that. I don't really get too into how many I've made or how long they've been or anything like that."
Being a rookie kicker in the NFL isn't easy. Being a rookie kicker who was brought in to replace the best kicker in franchise history is even tougher. Especially when the best kicker in franchise history goes somewhere else and is leading the league in scoring.
But aside from those two Week 4 misses, Henery has done a solid job. He hasn't been called on to hit a field goal with the game on the line, and he hasn't been asked to kick many long ones. Nineteen of his 23 attempts have been from less than 40 yards. That 63-yarder against the Falcons has been his only attempt longer than 47 yards.
"A few of the times that we could have tried [a longer] one, it was sort of situational," Henery said. "If I had missed it, it would have been more detrimental [to the Eagles] rather than pinning them down inside the five.
"It's something that, before the game, I set my [range] numbers and we kind of go from there. But it really depends a lot on the situation of the game."
Henery has done a pretty good job on kickoffs. While his 35.2 touchback percentage is the ninth lowest in the league, his kicks have regularly reached the end zone, and the Eagles are fourth in the league in average drive start after kickoffs (20.7). In the last six games, 21 of his 28 kickoffs have reached the end zone, though just 10 resulted in touchbacks.
"We've been doing more directional [kicking] than a lot of other teams do," Henery said. "I think that's one thing that's led to our cover team doing so well [ninth in the league]. We've been able to pin them on one side [of the field] and keep them there.
"When I know I can hit a touchback, we'll go for it. But really, we're more concerned with keeping them inside the 20 and giving our defense a good starting point."
Coach Andy Reid has been impressed by the strength of Henery's leg this late in his rookie season when a lot of young kickers often get leg fatigue.
"I think he's gotten stronger as the season has gone on," Reid said. "It looks like he's doing a good job. His kickoffs are maintaining their depth, and he's even [added] a couple of extra yards on to it where he's booting a few out of the end zone. And that's a good thing."
Some NFL kickers seem to find themselves in game-on-the-line situations every week. Others go an entire season without ever feeling that late fourth-quarter pressure.
Since his two misses against the Niners, Henery has attempted just two fourth-quarter field goals. Hit a 35-yarder in Week 5 against Buffalo that got the Eagles within a touchdown, and booted a 36-yarder in the loss to the Cardinals. That's been it. Maybe that will change Saturday or in Week 17 against the Redskins. Maybe it won't. Either way, Henery will be ready.
"You don't really want to say you don't want to be put in those situations because when the time comes, you want to be ready for it," he said. "You look forward to being in those situations. If they come, they come. If they don't, they don't. You've just got to be ready and prepared.
"That's what a lot of special teams is. Being ready on the fly for whatever comes and doing your best when it does."
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