Lechler lets it all fly for the Raiders

September 17, 2011, 6:28 pm
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ALAMEDA -- So much attention -- both good, and bad -- has been paid to Sebastian Janikowski this week that his running mate has become an afterthought. That is, if many gave Shane Lechler a thought at all.True, Janikowski tied the NFL record for longest field goal with his 63-yarder Monday night, before finding his name in a Contra Costa Times report Friday that said he had been charged with misdemeanor battery and false imprisonment. So the man known as SeaBass no doubt had an interesting five days.But Lechler's 77-yard punt in Denver tied a team record, and his name was not found on a police blotter.So even while he was being peppered with questions about Janikowsi's record-tying field goal (he is the holder, after all) this week, and answering them all with aplomb, a smile did creep across Lechler's weary face when he was asked about his own boot, which equaled the 77-yard punt by Wayne Crow against the New York Titans on Oct. 29, 1961."I haven't felt one like that in a long time," Lechler said. "I hit it and kind of stepped back and was kind of like, 'Where did that come from?'"Lechler, whose previous personal best was his 73-yarder on Sept. 28, 2003, laughed, then grew serious."It had a little anger management behind it," he added, "from the 90-yard punt return we had given up earlier in the game."Indeed, Eric Decker's 90-yard touchdown return came on a 57-yard Lechler punt following the Raiders' first series of the second half and pulled the Broncos to within 16-10 with 12:31 to play in the third quarter."I saw that the ball got kicked really far by Shane Lechler, who has an unbelievable foot," said Raiders coach Hue Jackson. "And then all of a sudden, we broke down on coverage on the left side. Maybe kind of out-kicked our coverage a little bit."The coverage guy has to know. Sometimes when you kick a ball you're not sure how far that thing is going. But once you realize, as a coverage unit, that the ball is in the air a little longer than what you're accustomed to, because normally there's a rhythm to a punt, I think the guy has to understand -- this one went a long way, and all of a sudden we have to attack the guy who is returning the ball a little differently."Lechler, drafted in the fifth round out of Texas A&M in 2000, has long been known as having the biggest leg among this generation's punters. Entering this season, his career 47.29 yards-per-punt average is the best in NFL history, and his 51.14 average in 2009 was just behind the single-season record of Sammy Baugh's 51.40 in 1940. Lechler's net average of 43.85 in 2009 did, however, set a single-season record for highest net average.But the six-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler is also one of the smartest. It's not always about showing distance and hang time. You have to be able to pin opponents with their backs to the end zone.His first punt after the TD return was a 46-yarder to the 8-yard line that Decker was only able to return three yards, thanks to a hustle play by Rock Cartwright.Lechler's next punt was a 50-yarder that was returned 10 yards, again snuffed out by Cartwright."If you look at the punt before (the record-tying kick), I kind of punted to the sideline," Lechler said.It gave him the confidence and the feel for the ensuing 77-yarder. So with the Raiders facing a 4th-and-7 at their own 23-yard line, Lechler let it fly into the closed end Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and the ball rolled into the north end zone for a touchback, while giving Crow renewed life and Jackson a chance to praise the man most vocal in his opposition to former coach Tom Cable being shown the door."He is as good as there is in football," Jackson said of Lechler. "There's not a ball he can't put or place anywhere that he needs to. He really works at his skill and his craft and this team and organization means a ton to him."And he means a lot to the Raiders as well. Remember, he is currently the Raiders' No. 3 quarterback."I always tell the guys 'Pat and Go' is the funnest part of the game for me," Lechler said of the passing drill. "It crosses my mind (I could have to play quarterback in a game). Hopefully, it never happens."Even if it does, he will remain intrinsically linked with Janikowski, as the biggest, most powerful legs in the NFL."Yeah, we take pride in that," Lechler said. "We take pride in still being together after 12 years. You don't see that at all any more, especially this year. A lot of veteran guys got cut or went down this year. We're in our 12th year together this year, which I think is a huge advantage."Especially when one of them can be overshadowed by the other in perception, but not in reality.