nfl playoffs

Suisham makes good on the opportunity

Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham made 14 of 15 field goal attempts over the final seven games of the regular season.
Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham made 14 of 15 field goal attempts over the final seven games of the regular season. (Gene J. Puskar)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2011

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Steelers place kicker Shaun Suisham knows there's a lot riding on one simple swing of his leg. If all goes well, it can win games. But if just one small detail is off - the timing, his footing, the angle of the ball - it can cost people jobs. Usually, he's learned, his own.

But Suisham, who's gone from unemployment to the NFL playoffs in the past two months, isn't spending too much time envisioning a scenario in which his leg decides which team advances this weekend to the AFC championship game.

"Less is more," he said. "The art of kicking is simple. It's not easy, but it's a simple skill. And I try not over-complicate one kick."

The Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens split their two meetings this year. Both games were decided by just three points. During the regular season, the Steelers allowed the fewest points in the NFL, and the Ravens allowed the third-fewest. So it's not difficult to envision Saturday's heated grudge match between the division rivals coming down to Suisham's leg, which suddenly is among the most dependable still alive in these playoffs.

Suisham, 29, was released by the Washington Redskins on Dec. 8, 2009. It took him more than 11 months to find steady kicking work. After several teams passed on his services, Suisham was 14 of 15 in field goal attempts, including 8 of 9 from 40 yards or more, in the Steelers' final seven games of the season. He had connected on 15 straight from 40 to 49 before missing a 41-yarder against Carolina in Week 16.

"He's banged just about every kick we sent him out there to hit, and it starts there," Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin said. "But not only that, he has a can-do attitude. He is a pleasant teammate. He has endeared himself to his teammates because of it. He doesn't bat an eye when you ask him to do some special things, whether it's kickoffs and spreading the ball around or lobs; he has just been a pro. He has been a good addition to us."

Suisham, an Ontario native, doesn't feel like he's in a special zone. He says, in fact, he's kicking the same way he did in 2009, when the Redskins gave up on him.

Suisham had to shoulder much of the blame for the Redskins' 33-30 overtime loss to New Orleans on Dec. 6, 2009. He nailed his first three field goals in that game, but missed a 23-yard attempt late in regulation that might have helped Washington avoid overtime entirely.

It was only Suisham's third miss of the year, but there was no saving his job. The Redskins released him two days later, ending his four-season run as Washington's place kicker. Suisham was 18-of-21 kicking in 2009. By contrast, his replacement, Graham Gano was 24 of 35 in 2010.

Suisham said he was shocked when the Redskins cut him because he felt he was having a good season.

'A harsh reality'

After a steady run in Washington, Suisham was sent on a wandering, nomadic journey familiar to many kickers. He finished the year with the Dallas Cowboys - he was a disappointing 3 of 5 on field goal attempts in the playoffs last year - and began searching for a job in the offseason. He spent time with the Cleveland Browns and a few days in training camp with the St. Louis Rams, but much of the past year has involved waiting for his phone to ring.

Few positions in sports offer less job security than an NFL place kicker's, and Suisham was suddenly a part of the group entirely dependent on fickle coaches eager to make a midseason change.

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