No more Saints kicker carousel as Wil Lutz proves himself on big stage

METAIRIE, La. -- Remember when New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz was still an unproven commodity?

Remember when the Saints burned through 11 kickers in 11 years under coach Sean Payton?

Both seem to be things of the past now, after Lutz capped a strong sophomore season with two huge playoff kicks.

Lutz’s 43-yard field goal that put the Saints ahead of the Minnesota Vikings with 25 seconds remaining last week was especially clutch -- before, you know, the thing that happened with Stefon Diggs and the "Minnesota Miracle."

As Saints punter/holder Thomas Morstead told Lutz after the game, “We didn’t win, but that was a game winner.”

“Yeah, it probably would have been the most important kick of my career,” Lutz said. “But in our position, you treat every kick the same. So I wasn’t looking at it like that at the time of the kick.

“Of course, looking back on that, I’ll carry it into the offseason and know we finished on a note like that, personally. Obviously, it would have been nice to have been the game winner and get the chance to go to the NFC Championship Game. But I think it’ll be something to grow on and just knowing that I can handle that situation without budging.”

Did Lutz do what he said? Did he treat it just like “any other kick” when he was in that moment?

“Yeah, everything felt the same,” Lutz said. “I knew there was still time on the clock. So I knew it wasn’t like a walk-off kick. I think I managed to keep my heart rate low that whole last drive, and I think that’s the important part of those situations. So, yeah, everything felt good. It felt like a normal kick.”

Morstead said the kick was a “no-doubter” and “cool just to be a part of that.”

“And he’ll draw on that in the future, even though it didn’t end up being the iconic kick that it could’ve been,” said Morstead, who also credited first-year long-snapper Zach Wood.

Lutz also tied his career high with a 57-yard field goal a week earlier in the Saints’ playoff win over the Carolina Panthers (though he missed a 58-yard attempt wide left in the first half against Minnesota).

Lutz, 23, didn’t have a perfect season in 2017, when he made 31 of 36 field goal attempts and 47 of 50 extra point attempts in the regular season. He would be the first to tell you that.

“It wasn’t a great season by any means. There’s about five kicks I’d like to have back,” Lutz said. “But it’s definitely a step up from last year. And every year you try to take a step up from the year before. So I think we got a good stepping stone going into next year, and hopefully we can build off it.”

More importantly, the Saints clearly have a young kicker they feel they can build on after trying in vain to find stability at the position for more than a decade: from John Carney to Billy Cundiff to Olindo Mare to Martin Gramatica to Taylor Mehlhaff to Garrett Hartley to Carney again to Hartley again to John Kasay to Hartley again to Shayne Graham to Zach Hocker to Kai Forbath to Lutz.

Payton put his faith in Lutz during Week 1 of the 2016 season, after Lutz was cut by the Baltimore Ravens and came to New Orleans for what Payton called “probably the best kicking workout I’ve ever seen.”

Lutz hit a few bumps in the road early in his rookie season, including a few low kicks. He eventually settled in and ran virtually unchallenged to keep the job the past offseason.

It’s hard to imagine anything that will keep Lutz from being locked in as the kicker again next season -- with hopes of another “step up” and even bigger kicks to come.