- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

It has become a familiar and groan-inducing sight in the NFL - the teams line up for a field goal attempt at the end of the half or the game, the kicker paces off his distance, checks the angle and the wind and … HOLD EVERYTHING!

Whistles blow, and officials frantically wave their arms. Sometimes the ball is snapped and even kicked, but it doesn’t count.

The opposing coach has called a timeout.

The NFL is a trendy place, and this is one of its fads, an extension of the timeworn psych-out job known as “icing” the kicker - that is, calling time to try to garble his concentration.

This latest incarnation of icing, an outgrowth of a 2006 rule change that allows coaches to call a timeout from the sideline, is all about timing. The idea is to wait until the last split second. But not only is it sneaky and devious, even by NFL standards, and not only does it annoy fans, commentators and even team officials, there also is no real evidence it works. In fact, it actually might help the kicker. This season, the maneuver backfired two weeks in a row.

With Arizona leading Dallas by three points in the final seconds in Week 6, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt called time just before Cowboys kicker Nick Folk attempted a 52-yard field goal. Folk kicked anyway - and it was blocked. Given a second chance, Folk made the field goal to send the game to overtime, though the Cardinals won by recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown.

The same scenario unfolded the next week in Oakland when New York Jets kicker Jay Feely lined up for a 52-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. Raiders coach Tom Cable dutifully called time. Despite the whistles, Feely went through with the kick. The ball struck the upright - no good. But just like Folk, Feely got to kick again and made it. As with the Cardinals, the Raiders wriggled off the hook in overtime, but neither game would have gone that far if the coaches had not stopped play.

Afterward, Feely told reporters: “I heard the whistle before I started, which is an advantage to the kicker. If you’re going to do that, do that before he kicks. I can kick it down the middle, see what the wind does and adjust. It helps the kicker tremendously.”

Said Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover said: “If you’re a golfer, you get a mulligan. This is like a mulligan for kickers. Hey, thanks for calling time out.”

Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan gets the credit - or blame - for the ploy, using it with apparent success last year in a win over the Raiders. Then-Oakland coach Lane Kiffin was so impressed that he used the same tactic in a win over Cleveland the following week to snap an 11-game losing streak. In both cases, the kicker made the first attempt, which didn’t count, then missed.

A few weeks later, Shanahan tried it again. This time, Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas missed a 56-yarder at the end of the first half that didn’t count. On his next attempt, Bironas connected. Denver still won, but it sounded a cautionary note. Earlier in the season, Titans coach Jeff Fisher, envisioning such an occurrence, had said, “I think as soon as a head coach ices a kicker and the kick is missed and then rekicked and made, I don’t think you’ll see it ever again.”

Um, no.

The practice irks a lot of people and has provoked pleas for the NFL to do something about it.

Last year, New York Giants co-owner John Mara, a member of the league’s competition committee, said: “I don’t particularly like it. I just don’t think that it looks right. We need to discuss changing that particular rule. There’s just something about it that rubs me the wrong way now that everybody’s doing it.”

Shanahan had flip-flopped on the issue. In 2006, he said he didn’t like the tactic because his kicker, Jason Elam, said the extra time was a big help.

“That’s why I don’t do it,” Shanahan said at the time. “He said it gives the guy a chance to focus a little bit more. I don’t think I’ve ever done it. If I did do it, it was before Jason told me.”

Elam, who kicked a 39-yard overtime field goal in a tricky wind to beat the Kansas City Chiefs that year, said: “It was kind of nice when Kansas City called a timeout. I was able to go out there, see what the wind was doing, see what the plant foot area was like. … I love it when they call time out. If they didn’t, maybe I would call my own timeout.”

Other kickers have said the same thing. Then again, what kicker is going to admit that icing bothers him?

As with icing the free throw shooter in basketball, it’s hard to say whether the strategy works. A few years ago, a study examined two seasons’ worth of high-pressure kicks and revealed slightly more misses when the kicker was iced. But unlike free throws, field goals entail several variables - wind, turf conditions, etc. As Redskinskicker Shaun Suisham said, “It’s hard to distinguish whether he missed the kick because of the timeout or whether he just missed it.”

Which is what Suisham said happened against the Cleveland Browns this season when he missed a 36-yard field goal before the end of the first half. He scoffed at the notion that the preceding timeout might have been a reason.

“That wasn’t why I missed,” he said. “I just missed it.”

A more valid reason might have been that Suisham had a new holder, Ryan Plackemeier, but the kicker didn’t mention it.

“It’s helped me. I like it when they call [a timeout],” Suisham said. “You get time to get situated and get a feel for the kick.”

Even college kickers have grown accustomed.

“It helps me stay focused,” Northern Illinois’ Mike Salerno told reporters after he kicked a 30-yard game-winner despite a late timeout. “I leave a ball teed up on the sideline in case they call timeout.”

Stover, who recalled a 1999 game against Cincinnati in which both teams called time on top of a lengthy review, said: “Mentally, you’re kicking the ball. You remove yourself from the play because the other sideline is gonna be talking to you. I just visualize the kick and, the next thing I know, it’s time to go.”

Sometimes, coaches end up icing themselves. Against Buffalo last year, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs called time just before Rian Lindell got off a 51-yard kick in the final seconds that would have put the Bills ahead. As Lindell got ready to kick again, Gibbs called another timeout, which was illegal. The 15-yard penalty created an easier 36-yard attempt. Lindell made it and the Redskins lost 17-16.

But the Redskins also benefited from an icing call last year when Eagles coach Andy Reid called time to allow Suisham to dwell on a 33-yard attempt just before halftime with Philadelphia leading 6-3. The Redskins had second-and-goal from the 16. The delay allowed Gibbs to change his mind, and Jason Campbell threw a touchdown pass to Chris Cooley. It was the key play in the Redskins’ 20-12 victory.

A few weeks ago, Redskins coach Jim Zorn had a chance to ice Cleveland’s Phil Dawson on a 54-yard attempt that would have tied the score. But Zorn held off, and Dawson missed to preserve a 14-11 Redskins victory.

“I’ll do it at some point,” Zorn said. “I would do it before [the kicker] actually kicked the ball.”

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