<
>

Lions punter Sam Martin explains what happened on his kick against Dallas

Sam Martin knew what happened the moment the ball went off his foot in the fourth quarter of the Detroit Lions' playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys in January.

The punt -- his last of the season -- was one of the worst of his professional career considering its length (10 yards) and what happened immediately after: A 59-yard, game-winning Dallas drive that ended Detroit’s season.

His punt was part of the reason the Lions lost to the Cowboys 24-20, continuing a playoff losing streak that started in January 1992. Besides the punt and the oft-mentioned fourth-quarter officiating issues, the Lions made crucial mistakes on offense, defense, coaching and special teams in the second half that contributed to the loss.

Martin spoke with ESPN.com Friday -- the first time he's explained what happened on the punt.

Martin went on the field with the Lions on the Dallas 46-yard line, preparing to use a traditional Aussie-style punt to the left, wanting to place the ball around the Dallas 10-yard line. When the Lions took a delay of game penalty, backing them up five yards to the Detroit 49-yard line, Martin contemplated sticking with the Aussie punt or executing a more traditional punt crossing over the field. He successfully did this often during the season in an attempt to keep the ball from being returned or sending it out of bounds deep in opposing territory.

The indecision -- something he takes full blame for -- led to the mistake.

“It happened so quick, I hadn’t really made my mind up and the snap came and I just thought as I catch the ball, I’m going to go across the field, normal punt and it was just one of those things where I didn’t have my mind made up and it happens so fast,” Martin said. “I can’t be like that. I have to go out there knowing what I’m going to do and visualize what I’m going to do and go do it.

“I didn’t decide quick enough, really. I have to be more concrete in what I’m going to do and just execute. I didn’t do that on that play.”

Martin typically decides what type of punt he is kicking before he steps on the field based on field position, flow of the game, returner, distance and time left. Throughout the first two years of his career, Martin made all of these decisions and couldn’t remember a time former special teams coach John Bonamego chose for him other than an onside punt or fake punt call.

Martin had a strong season other than the shank, averaging 46.1 yards per punt and 40.1 yards net per punt. Pro Football Focus graded him as the third-best punter in the NFL behind St. Louis' Johnny Hekker and Indianapolis' Pat McAfee. He also graded as the fifth-best kickoff specialist in the league by PFF.

That being said, he's had two situations now where he had poor punts in critical times -- with a poor punt against Cincinnati in 2013 accompanying the Dallas shank.

“The second it happened, I knew what happened,” Martin said. “I knew what I did so it’s not something I sit there and try to figure out what the (heck) happened. I knew exactly. There’s nothing I can do about it. I know I’m better than that.

“It’s not like I’m questioning my ability. It’s just, if anything, it’s just embarrassing, and what am I going to do to not embarrass myself and contribute to winning the game. My job is to help us win and I’m going to help us win.”

For the most part in his career, Martin has done exactly that.

He’s still one of the top young punters in the league and a player general manager Martin Mayhew said he believes in at the NFL combine last month. Other than the poorly timed miscues, Martin has been worth the fifth-round pick the franchise invested in him during the 2013 draft.

“I’m on to figuring out how that’s not going to happen again,” Martin said. “Just training and looking forward to next year.

“Looking forward to getting better and having another good season.”