NFL kickers are off to their best start ever

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DENVER (AP) - The men in stripes have drawn so much attention this season that some interesting developments on the football field have gone largely unnoticed, like a big spike in field goal accuracy.

NFL teams combined for a record 2,287 points in the first three weeks of the season thanks to a record 248 touchdowns.

Kickers have done their part in this proliferation of points, converting 182 field goal attempts and missing just 15 for a 92.4 percent clip _ the best three-week start ever.

The three-week mark tends to be a precursor for the entire season, with the final accuracy rate dipping two or three percentage points as the weather gets worse and the pressure rises.

That means the record set in 2008 of 84.5 percent could be obliterated this season.

The league-wide field goal percentage last season was 82.9 percent, second-highest all-time. Through three weeks last season, the number was 85.8 percent, according to STATS LLC.

If this year’s figure drops a similar 2.9 percentage points, it would end up at 89.5 percent, an enormous jump, statistically speaking.

Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater, the most accurate kicker in league history from 50 yards and out, said he thinks this year’s spike is the culmination of several factors ranging from better athletes to improved coaching and superior training.

“Guys are just getting better and better,” Prater said. “You get guys who are veterans in there and they learn from their mistakes and don’t want to repeat them.”

Yet, it’s not just the icy veined veterans who are nailing their kicks.

Kickers coming out of college are having immediate success, too, much like the better-prepared rookie quarterbacks who no longer have to bide their time as backups.

Heading into this weekend’s slate beginning with Thursday night’s Cleveland-Baltimore game, the Ravens’ Justin Tucker, St. Louis’ Greg Zuerlein and Minnesota’s Blair Walsh were a combined 22-for-22 with each rookie having kicked at least a 55-yarder.

Tucker and Walsh have game-winners already. Tucker’s beat New England 31-30 last weekend as time expired and Walsh’s came in overtime against Jacksonville after he kicked a 55-yarder as time expired in regulation.

“There’s more camps for kids coming up the ranks now,” Prater said. “You can get a good head start on it.”

During their high school years, both Walsh and Tucker attended kicking camps in California run by Chris Sailer, who kicked for UCLA in the 1990s.

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