Nervousness comes with uncertainty.
As the Eagles drive down the field in key situations, kicker Jake Elliott tries to ready himself on the sideline. He has a routine. The rookie takes a practice kick before every first and third down. In between peeking over his teammates to see game action, the 5-foot-9 kicker tries to visualize his kick. If he thinks it might be a right hash kick, he moves the ball ever so slightly on the tee before booming it into the net.
The Eagles move the ball down the field, Elliott kicks into the net. The whole time the pressure continues to build and build. When will they call on him? How far will the kick be? What is the wind like?
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Until it's his time to get on the field.
Then the nervousness fades away.
"As the kick's approaching, there's obviously a little nerves," Elliott said. "With every uncertain situation, there's going to be some nerves that come into play. You don't know what the yard line is going to be, you don't know this and that. Once you're jogging on the field, everything is kind of set."
The life of an NFL kicker is pretty much all pressure situations. They just get magnified in the playoffs.
As a rookie, this is obviously Elliott's first time in the postseason. The 22-year-old has had a wild rookie year. He was drafted by the Bengals in the fifth round but lost a competition and landed on their practice squad. The Eagles signed him when Caleb Sturgis suffered a serious hip injury and in his second game with the Birds, Elliott drilled a franchise-record 61-yard kick to beat the rival Giants. He's now the Eagles' kicker.
And he's ready for the playoffs.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I'm just going to approach it like any other game. Obviously, the atmosphere is going to be a little more intense. I think I'm prepared for that. As long as I approach it like I have all season, I don't think it's going to be a problem."
Elliott is a pretty calm guy. You might even call his demeanor boring. He's not very excitable, which is probably an advantage as a kicker. Never get too high or too low.
He admitted that he doesn't even think about breathing techniques anymore. Elliott acknowledged that he'll take a few deep breaths to calm himself before a big kick, but it's no longer part of a conscious progression. It's built into his routine.
Sturgis has been impressed with Elliott all year long. He can't offer his younger teammate any advice about the playoffs because he's never been there either. But Sturgis just knows routine is the basis for comfort. He likened it to swinging well on a driving range, so when you get on the course, you're good to go.
"[Elliott's] been unbelievable," Sturgis said. "Especially the year he's had with how much success the team's had. Every game is so big for us and he's come out. Obviously, the Giants kick to start his time here and then the Oakland kick was huge. He's hit a lot of big kicks."
There's a good chance Saturday's game could come down to a field goal. The Falcons are favored by 2.5-3 points and playoff games always seem to be close.
On the other sideline this weekend will be a 16-year veteran in Matt Bryant, who has made 13 of 14 field goal attempts in the playoffs over his career. Bryant, of course, is the kicker who made that 62-yarder as time expired against the Eagles back in 2006 to give the Bucs a 23-21 win. This is Bryant's ninth season in Atlanta.
With all that experience, Bryant has been through these situations before. Heck, he kicked in the Super Bowl last year. Elliott is a fresh-faced rookie, but really, the life of a kicker is all pressure. He's built for this.
"It's a lot of not making the moment bigger than it needs to be," Elliott said. "I've done it a million times, whether it's in practice, in a game, whether it's in the fourth quarter, whether it's in the first quarter. I've done it enough so it's muscle memory and not make it bigger than it is."