Husted puts best foot forward when it counts
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 3 November 1997

The ball traveled end over end until it split the uprights, and with it went all the doubts about the Bucs placekicker. Michael Husted's winning 36-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining did more than lift Tampa Bay to a 31-28 victory over the winless Colts. It erased any lingering concerns about Husted, the target of much criticism for his three missed extra points in his previous five tries entering Sunday's game.

"I think eager is a very good word to use," Husted said of the winning kick. "I wanted to just go out there and play this game because I enjoy it. I enjoy what I do because I've worked hard at it. And as soon as they fumbled the ball in our territory, I knew I was going to have an opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal."

It was the sixth game-winning field goal of Husted's career. He also was perfect on four PATs and put four of six kickoffs in the end zone, two for touchbacks. Teammates mobbed the popular placekicker, a marked contrast from the previous Sunday, when he stood alone before reporters and tried to explain a puzzling slump after missing a PAT in the Bucs' 10-6 loss to Minnesota.

The game-winning kick ended what seemed to be a rough week of soul-searching for Husted. "I don't think it was that tough," Husted said. "I had a very good week of practice all week long. I think after last Sunday night I went home, and had some deep thinking. And I knew that I deserve to play on this team, I'm good enough and I want to help this team win a lot of games and get to the playoffs. So I came to work on Monday ready to go."

The Bucs had hoped that playing in the climate-controlled conditions of the RCA Dome and the Georgia Dome would help Husted straighten out his problems. Had the yips on his extra points persisted, they might've considered replacing Husted after next week's game at Atlanta. But Husted was up to the challenge. "I think all of us were really happy for Michael to nail a game-winner, after having so much criticism the last couple weeks," coach Tony Dungy said. "He's a good kicker. He's going to be our kicker and we have a lot of confidence in him."

Husted's performance highlighted a spectacular game for the special teams. The Bucs had 216 yards on kick returns Sunday. Karl Williams returned a punt 63 yards to set up a touchdown. Reidel Anthony returned a kickoff 51 yards. And punter Sean Landeta (43.3 avg.) consistently booted the Bucs out of trouble - including a 56-yarder.

But nobody needed that kind of performance more than Husted. "I told myself I belong in this game and I'm a good field-goal kicker," Husted said. "I just relaxed. Being indoors, it was a great situation. It was a good snap, a good hold and I just banged it through. It felt very good. It felt like all the hard work I put in not only this week, but the whole off-season paid off."

When Husted lined up for the potential game-winner, Bucs players said they knew the kick would be perfect. "He was struggling," fullback Mike Alstott said. "Kickers get in a situation where maybe they're in a slump and their confidence isn't there, but Michael worked hard during the week and came out ready to do it. Our whole team had confidence he would do it. There was no doubt in our minds."