Nick Folk: Redemption Under Bright Lights

Connor KieselContributor ISeptember 16, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 11:  Nick Folk #2 of the New York Jets celebrates after he kicked a successful 50-yard game-winning field goal against the Dallas Cowboys during their NFL Season Opening Game at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

In last Sunday's matchup between the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys—a game where both teams continually shot themselves in the foot with mistakes by their quarterbacks—it was fitting that the foot of kicker Nick Folk did in his old team.

Folk drilled a 50-yarder with just 32 seconds left to go to give New York a September 11 win and punctuate a shocking Jets comeback (or Dallas collapse; whatever you want to call it). It was a game-winner chock full of redemption for Folk, who fell from grace in Dallas.

As a rookie, Folk was a Cowboy star, the NFC’s Pro Bowl kicker. He made 26-of-31 field goals and all 53 extra points he tried. That 53 is a fitting number. It was also the distance from which Folk made the biggest field goal of his career—up until Sunday night.

Monday night of Week 5 of the 2007 season was a wild affair. The Cowboys trailed the Bills by 11 going into the fourth quarter, but narrowed the deficit to within a point with 20 seconds left. Folk then successfully executed an onside kick, which led to his moment, a 53-yard game winner he nailed twice—the first erased by a Buffalo timeout. On the national stage, with the star on his helmet, Folk shined brightly.

His success continued through his sophomore campaign until a hip injury thwarted his Dallas dreams. Folk returned too quickly from offseason surgery for a torn labrum and it showed. He hit under 65 percent of his field goals—a number that will both fail you in class and also provide you with your NFL walking papers. Dallas cut Folk on December 21, 2009, following a win over New Orleans, when he missed a 24-yarder that would have iced the game.

This bit from an ESPN article on December 21, 2009, explaining Folk’s release notes the curiosity of the situation well:

“Adding to the mystery, Folk had missed just 10 kicks in his 2½-year career before slumping. Television footage during Saturday night's game showed Folk's pregame kicks flying all over the place in the controlled atmosphere of the Superdome.”

Kickers are often remembered for their erratic moments more than their triumphant ones. The 53-yard field goal that catapulted Dallas over Buffalo in sensational fashion two seasons earlier was a distant memory.

Folk had to put it all back together.

An opportunity came last training camp when the Jets chose not to re-sign Jay Feely and opened up a kicking competition. Skepticism about Folk was understandably high, especially when he struggled at the start

Working with special teams guru Mike Westhoff though, Folk returned to form in 2010. Three missed field goals in a miserable performance in Cleveland drew the ire of many fans, but Folk finished the season connecting on a respectable 30-of-39 attempts. His 32-yard field goal at the end of regulation in Indianapolis sent the Jets onward in last season’s playoff run. 

That redemption—making big field goals and earning back a positive reputation—came full circle on Sunday night. The way he made arguably the biggest field goal of his career is eerily similar to the one that this one surpassed. Both were 50 or more yards, under the lights, set up by strange plays with under a minute to go and completed double-digit comebacks.

Folk can thank his former teammate, Tony Romo, for the egregious interception that set him up for the spotlight. But while that may have been the murderous blow, Folk seized the New Jersey night and put the final nail in his former team's coffin.