Detroit Lions special in kicking game: Prater is Player of the Week, Muhlbach a ‘legend’

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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It’s only been three weeks, but the Detroit Lions have one of the best special teams units in the NFL.

The Lions rank third in Football Outsiders composite special teams rankings, behind only the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks.

Punter Jack Fox leads the league with a hefty 51.1-yard net punting average.

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Long snapper Don Muhlbach will play in his 248th career game Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, moving him into a tie for 50th place on the NFL’s all-times games played list.

And kicker Matt Prater was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after making the game-winning field goal in last week’s win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Prater, who has 15 game-winning kicks in his career, has earned Player of the Week honors 11 times in his career and six times with the Lions.

He made all four of his field goal tries last week, from 37, 24, 35 and 39 yards. The 39-yarder came as time expired and gave the Lions (1-2) their first victory of the season.

“The offense at the end did a great job moving the ball down, ran the clock out, set it up so I’m just basically trying to do my part,” Prater said. “And I know with the protection up front, Mule snapping, Jack holding, they’ve been money all year so it makes it easy for me just to focus on trying to make the kick.”

Fox, who spent part of last season on the Lions’ practice squad, has been one of the fall’s most pleasant surprises after winning a camp battle with Arryn Siposs for the punting job.

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Opponents have returned just three of his 13 punts this season, for a total of 6 yards, and he also handles kickoffs and holding.

Muhlbach, in his 17th NFL season, will tie longtime kicker Al Del Greco on the games played list Sunday. Just three active players, Las Vegas Raiders tight end Jason Witten (258), Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald (253) and Cardinals punter Andy Lee (251), have appeared in more games.

“I got to thank you for sharing that stat with me,” Lions special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs said Tuesday when told of Muhlbach’s place on the list. “Busting Mule’s balls about his age has quickly become one of my favorite pastimes, so the more ammo I have in that category, the better.

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“He’s awesome. Working with him has been awesome. I would say that probably the two best traits that Mule has, aside from an awesome beard and elite athleticism, are probably, A, his selflessness, and, B, his commitment.

“He’s all in. He’s like an extra coach really with just his investment and his time commitment to what we’re trying to do. He plays a position where nobody’s really ever going to really hear his name unless he ever screws something up. Although I will say, I continue to be taken aback by sort of the legend of Don Muhlbach here in Detroit. He is certainly a local hero, and all that’s well deserved for him.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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