This was hardly a Super Bowl championship on the line for Sam Ficken and the Jets, he wasn’t Scott Norwood at the end of Super Bowl XXV, or Adam Vinatieri at the end of Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII.
But make this 44-yard field goal, and Adam Gase avenges that inexcusable defeat to his former team; miss it and he trudges out into the night carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, wondering whether this fickle and humbling roller coaster NFL career would ever end.
Al Riveron had correctly overturned a controversial pass interference non-call on Vincynt Smith against Nik Needham on third-and-18 in the final minute, and Gase trusted Ficken so much that he made no effort to get him closer than the 26 and instead called a Ty Montgomery run up the middle for no gain with no timeouts left.
When Sam Darnold spiked the ball, the scoreboard read: :03.
It also read Dolphins 21, Jets 19.
Ficken has been the Jets kicker since Week 2 because Kaare Vedvik, who had replaced Taylor Bertolet, who had replaced Chandler Catanzaro, missed a 45-yard field goal and a PAT in the 17-16 Opening Day choke to the Bills.
So here it was:
Make. Or miss.
Hero. Or goat.
Win. Or lose.
On the sideline, Darnold believed. Gase believed. Jordan Jenkins believed. Kyle Phillips couldn’t bear to watch.
Jets 22, Dolphins 21.
About Ficken Time.
And they were mobbing The Other Sam when it ended.
“I don’t want to take away from the fact it felt really good,” Ficken said. “But it wasn’t some heroic kick. We’re expected to make those in this league. I was just happy to come through for my team.”
He was hoping for his first NFL game-winner after Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders booted his seventh field goal with 1:33 remaining.
He knew he was getting his chance because he was within his range once Darnold and Ty Montgomery connected on a 12-yard pass that got the Jets to the Miami 26.
“It’s kind of a gray line … I think before the game we said about the 35-yard line,” Ficken said.
He had been 3 of 6 from 40-49 yards. He had made a 37-yarder after the missed PAT. He purposely stayed off to himself in those lonely seconds before make or miss, win or lose, hero or goat.
“Honestly, I try and turn my brain off,” Ficken told The Post in a corner of the locker room following his first podium appearance. “Which sounds kinda funny. But let muscle memory take over. When the snap and the hold are perfect like they were, it’s just like blackout, just do your job.”
There is a method to every kicker’s madness, of course.
“You’re trying to do the same thing regardless of whether it’s a 55-yarder or extra point,” Ficken said. “In those moments, sometimes your emotions can influence and change that. I’m just happy that didn’t happen to me.”
He had missed a PAT in the second quarter following a low snap that sabotaged the operation.
“The operation wasn’t super-crisp. I gotta do a better job just knocking those short ones through,” Ficken said.
He was lucky that there was little wind to torment him. “A little here and there, but nothing that was gonna greatly influence how I kicked it,” Ficken said.
He first started kicking at Valparaiso (Indiana.) High School, and recalled his first-game winner come in Dublin, a 36-yarder as time expired to lift Christian Hackenberg and Penn State over UCF in the opener of his senior year. He had been 3 of 6 with the Rams in 2017 and ‘18.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster,” Ficken said. “But there’s plenty of really good long-term kickers that haven’t always started out super-hot. Sometimes it takes a few years to break in. Once you’re in, you can float around a little bit. I’ve certainly done my fair share of floating around. Hopefully I continue to do what I did today here and play for a long time.”
He was chronicling his journey — “Jacksonville, Kansas City, Rams twice, Seattle for a week, Green Bay, and then here” — when Jenkins turned the corner from the shower on his way to his locker and looked over at Ficken and said “Das Boot,” and the hero laughed.
“That’s new — I haven’t heard that one,” Ficken said, and chuckled.
At his position, in his position, you never know for sure whether you will hear it again.
“It could be pretty finicky, especially until you have kind of a long track record. It’s my own fault I’ve been cut that many times,” Ficken said.
But he will always have Sunday.
“I don’t think there’s many better feelings than that,” Ficken said.
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