DENVER — Matt Prater had a cold, and was dealing with icy temperatures and history as he lined up to kick the frigid football from his 46-yard line.
Nobody in the NFL had ever kicked a football through the uprights from this far away — 64 yards.
Tom Dempsey, Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski, David Akers. They had all done it from 63 yards.
Yet even as his right foot was numb, Prater’s nerves were calm.
Tight end Jacob Tamme would tell him after Denver’s 51-28 win over Tennessee a couple hours later that Tamme stepped out of bounds at the Titans 46 on purpose so that he’d get a shot at the record. And for that, he owes Tamme a steak dinner.
Prater cleared his mind, intent on not changing his routine.
“I just try to treat all those long ones the same and just basically try to blast them and hopefully they go straight,” he said.
It was 14 degrees, clear, a slight breeze at his back.
“I felt like I hit it pretty good. And I didn’t know. I honestly thought it was going to be really close.”
As he tracked the ball on its descent, Prater noticed Titans kick returner Leon Washington waiting to return the ball if it fell short. “And I saw him backing up, so I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, we might actually have to cover this.’”
Broncos coach John Fox said he’s sure everybody in the stadium was thinking of the great game last month when Chris Davis returned a missed field-goal attempt 100 yards for a TD on the final play to lift Auburn to a win over then-No. 1 Alabama, upending the two-time defending national champion’s BCS hopes and preserving the Tigers’ own.
“That was a concern,” Fox said. “But he nailed it.”
All Washington could do was turn and watch it clear the crossbar, a birds-eye view of the historic kick.
“I saw it all the way. It went maybe 3 inches over the bar, so good job by him,” said Washington, who trotted off with his head down as the officials raised their arms on either side of him and the Broncos celebrated like they’d won the game already.
The Broncos still trailed 21-20 at halftime.
“Even though we were down one if felt like it was tied or almost like we had the lead,” Peyton Manning would say after the Broncos finished off the Titans.
Holder Britton Colquitt jumped on Prater’s back before they headed toward the tunnel.
“I think he was more excited than I was,” Prater said.
Prater added a 19-yarder in the second half after the Broncos failed to score from the 1-yard line.
That means, Prater had both the longest and the shortest field goals in the same game.
“Yeah, it’s a good day at the office,” Prater said.
And he treated both the same — almost.
“Well, the 19-yarder you’d better not miss it,” Prater said. “That’s the only difference.”
His 64-yarder bested the record of 63 set by New Orleans’ club-footed Dempsey in 1970 and tied by Denver’s Elam in 1998, Oakland’s Janikowski in 2011 and San Francisco’s Akers last season.
Janikowski’s and Elam’s kicks also came in Denver’s thin air.
Prater will counter anybody’s argument over the altitude with the fact it was freezing on this day.
“Yes, it kind of takes out the altitude factor,” he said.
Normally before games Prater tests out his range on both goal posts but it was so cold — 18 degrees at kickoff, 14 when he set the record — that he didn’t bother.
“I didn’t really test it out too much because it was so cold I didn’t think we would kick one that far. I went back to I think 61 maybe,” Prater said.
With the Broncos trailing 21-17, though, he knew anything from 64 and in was a go.
“Yeah, I’d say that was the limit,” Prater said.
He never would have attempted one from that far going toward the other end zone and into the wind.
While his teammates couldn’t wait for hot showers, Prater spent 10 minutes in the cold tub after the game.
“I always cold tub after the game to help freshen up my legs,” he said. “Kickers are all weird.”
Except that he stands alone now.
49ERS 19, SEAHAWKS 17
SAN FRANCISCO — Phil Dawson kicked a 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining and the Niners held off the nemesis Seahawks, denying Seattle a chance to clinch the division at Candlestick Park.
Frank Gore broke a 51-yard gain with just more than four minutes left to set up the go-ahead 11-play, 76-yard drive as the 49ers (9-4) kept the playoff-bound Seahawks (11-2) from grabbing away the West in San Francisco.
Dawson’s fourth field goal of the day gave him 20 straight converted field goals, a franchise record topping Joe Nedney’s 18 consecutive in 2006-07.
Russell Wilson threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Luke Willson and Marshawn Lynch ran for an 11-yard score for Seattle, denied a franchise-best sixth road victory.
The 49ers are unbeaten at home against the West since losing to the Seahawks on Oct. 26, 2008.
SAINTS 31, PANTHERS 13
NEW ORLEANS — Drew Brees passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns, helping New Orleans regain sole possession of first place in the NFC South and snap Carolina’s winning streak at eight games.
The Panthers’ defense had not allowed more than two touchdowns in a game this season until the Saints scored three in the second quarter alone, when Brees completed 14 of 16 passes for 159 yards.
The Saints (10-3) also became the only team this season to score more than 24 points against Carolina, which entered the game No. 1 in scoring defense, allowing 13.1 points per game.
Brees’ first two scoring strikes went to Marques Colston, who made nine catches for 125 yards. Jimmy Graham added two TD receptions.
Graham Gano kicked two field goals in the first quarter for Carolina (9-4), and Cam Newton threw a touchdown pass to Steve Smith with 5:15 left in the game.
EAGLES 34, LIONS 20
PHILADELPHIA — LeSean McCoy ran for a franchise-best 217 yards, including touchdowns of 57 and 40 yards, and the Eagles overcame two TD returns by Jeremy Ross in a blizzard.
Ross returned a punt 58 yards for a score and ran a kickoff 98 yards. But McCoy sprinted 57 yards up the middle for a tying TD, and Nick Foles connected with Riley Cooper on the 2-point conversion. Foles sneaked in from the 1 and Chris Polk had a 38-yard touchdown run to cap a 28-point fourth quarter for the Eagles (8-5).
Snow began falling two hours before kickoff and intensified after the game started. Workers used shovels and handheld blowers to clear off yard lines. Conditions were so poor neither team tried a field goal, and there were 2-point conversion attempts after seven of the eight TDs.
The Eagles, looking to go worst-to-first in the NFC East, won their fifth straight game and took over sole possession of first place. Dallas can make it a tie for the top spot with a victory at Chicago on Monday night.
The Lions (7-6) have a half-game lead over the Bears in the NFC North.
RAVENS 29, VIKINGS 26
BALTIMORE — Joe Flacco threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to rookie Marlon Brown with 4 seconds left to ice the win. Brown’s catch concluded a five-play, 80-yard drive that took only 41 seconds.
It came after Matt Cassel threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson with 45 seconds remaining. Just before that, Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones took a kickoff 77 yards for a score, which followed a 41-yard touchdown run by Toby Gerhart, who had replaced an injured Adrian Peterson (ankle) for Minnesota (3-9-1).
The zaniness began when Flacco threw a 1-yard, fourth-down pass to Dennis Pitta with 2:05 go to for a 15-12 Ravens lead.
Baltimore (7-6) has its first three-game winning streak of the season and the inside track for the second AFC wild card.
PATRIOTS 27, BROWNS 26
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes in the final 61 seconds and New England recovered an onside kick to set up the comeback win.
The Patriots (10-3) cut the deficit to 26-21 on Brady’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman with 1:01 left. Cleveland received a 15-yard penalty on the play, then Kyle Arrington recovered the onside kick at the Cleveland 40-yard line.
Brady completed a 10-yard pass to Danny Amendola, then Leon McFadden was called for defensive pass interference in the end zone. That put the ball at the 1, where Brady connected with Amendola again.
The Browns (4-9) moved to the Patriots 40 with 1 second left, but Billy Cundiff missed a 58-yard field goal.
New England lost tight end Rob Gronkowski to a leg injury in the third quarter.
BENGALS 42, COLTS 28
CINCINNATI — Andy Dalton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Bengals remained perfect at home and in control of the AFC North.
The Bengals (9-4) improved to 6-0 at Paul Brown Stadium on a cold, windy day: 28 degrees at kickoff with a wind chill of 19 and light flurries.
Dalton gave his most consistent performance since October, throwing for three touchdowns that kept the Bengals ahead and finishing it off with an 8-yard run in the fourth quarter. Dalton was 24 of 35 for 275 yards without a sack or interception.
The Colts (8-5) had another slow start in the cold, falling behind 21-0 before Andrew Luck threw four touchdown passes to keep them close. But they clinched the AFC South when Tennessee lost at Denver.
CHIEFS 45, REDSKINS 10
LANDOVER, Md. — The Chiefs scored on their first four possessions in the snow, sacked Robert Griffin III five times and Kirk Cousins once, and returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.
The score was 17-0 after the first quarter and 38-10 at halftime. Quintin Demps immediately answered the lone Redskins touchdown with a 95-yard kickoff return that resembled at times a winter stroll, part of a stunning tally of 321 return yards by Kansas City in the first half alone.
Jamaal Charles ran 19 times for 151 yards for Kansas City.
The Chiefs (10-3), who lost two to the Denver Broncos sandwiched around a defeat to the San Diego Chargers after starting 9-0, beat up on a bad team. The Redskins (3-10) certainly qualify: Sunday’s game was their fifth straight loss, and coach Mike Shanahan appears increasingly likely to be gone after a third losing season in four years.
CARDINALS 30, RAMS 10
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer completed 27 of 32 passes, 12 of them to Larry Fitzgerald, and the Cardinals ended an eight-game losing streak against NFC West foes.
Palmer, questionable for the game with a sore right elbow, threw for 269 yards and a touchdown as the Cardinals (8-5) won for the fifth time in six games.
Arizona’s Karlos Dansby returned an interception 23 yards for a touchdown and John Abraham tackled Kellen Clemens for a safety.
Tavon Austin’s 56-yard run set up the only touchdown for the Rams (5-8), a 1-yard run by Zac Stacy. Austin injured his left ankle on the play and didn’t return.
The Cardinals lost rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu in the third quarter with a left knee injury.
DOLPHINS 34, STEELERS 28
PITTSBURGH — Charles Clay caught two touchdown passes, including a 12-yard strike from Ryan Tannehill with 2:53 remaining.
Daniel Thomas ran for 105 yards and a score. His zig-zag 55-yard burst at snowy Heinz Field set up Clay’s winner. Tannehill completed 20 of 33 passes for 201 yards and three scores for the Dolphins (7-6). Miami won for the third time in its last four games.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 349 yards and three scores but the Steelers (5-8) lost their second straight game. Antonio Brown raced into the end zone after a series of laterals on the final play, but officials ruled he stepped out of bounds before scoring.
The Steelers snapped the ball at their own 21 just before the clock hit all zeros. Emmanuel caught a short pass from Roethlisberger, starting a flurry of laterals that included getting the ball into the hands of 330-pound tackle Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert flipped it to Roethlisberger who then appeared to throw it forward to Brown. No flags were thrown, however, as Brown raced down the sideline before touching the sideline.
PACKERS 22, FALCONS 21
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Matt Flynn threw for 258 yards and the Packers’ struggling defense forced a key fourth-quarter turnover to snap a five-game winless string.
Mike Neal’s sack forced Matt Ryan to fumble. Defensive lineman Johnny Jolly scooped up the loose ball and celebrated with a little belly dance at chilly Lambeau Field.
Four plays later, Flynn found Andrew Quarless for a 2-yard go-ahead score with about 12 minutes left for the Packers (6-6-1).
The score completed a comeback from an 11-point halftime deficit and whipped the fans swathed in parkas and knit caps into a frigid frenzy. It was 9 degrees when the game started, with a wind chill of minus-1.
Matt Bryant missed a 52-yard field goal with 6:42 left for Atlanta (3-10).
JETS 37, RAIDERS 27
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Geno Smith threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score as the Jets set a season high for points and stopped a three-game skid.
Chris Ivory had a touchdown run, Nick Folk kicked three field goals and Antonio Allen blocked a punt and returned it for a score to help the Jets (6-7) in the AFC playoff hunt. Smith ended a miserable stretch that included getting benched last week by throwing his first touchdown toss since Week 7.
The Jets also prevented the first four-game losing streak under coach Rex Ryan.
Matt McGloin threw two touchdown passes and fullback Marcel Reece, starting because Oakland was down three running backs, had a 63-yard TD run for the Raiders (4-9).
Oakland has lost three straight overall, and 13 consecutive in the Eastern time zone.
CHARGERS 37, GIANTS 14
SAN DIEGO — Philip Rivers found rookie Keenan Allen for two of his three touchdown passes, and the Chargers kept alive their long-shot playoff hopes.
Manning dropped to 0-3 against San Diego since 2004, when the Chargers took him with the No. 1 overall draft pick and then sent him to the Giants for Rivers and a handful of draft picks. The Giants (5-8) were knocked out of playoff contention.
Manning was picked off twice, the first time when Donald Butler came up with a deflected pass midway through the first quarter. Three plays later, Allen caught a 43-yard pass and lunged for the pylon for the score.
Allen had three catches to push his season total to 61, breaking LaDainian Tomlinson’s team rookie record of 59 in 2001.
BUCCANEERS 27, BILLS 6
TAMPA, Fla. — Mike Glennon threw two touchdown passes and Bobby Rainey scored on an 80-yard run on the second play of the day. The Bucs (4-9) intercepted EJ Manuel four times en route to their fourth win in five games following an 0-8 start.
Manuel, Buffalo’s first-round draft pick out of Florida State, was sacked seven times and doubled his interception total for the season.
The Bills (4-9) have lost five of six, are assured of finishing without a winning record for the ninth straight year, and also are likely to extend the NFL’s longest current playoff drought to 14 consecutive seasons.
By wire sources