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Novak and Special Teams Unit Stand Out
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The score on the scoreboard at Soldier Field didn't matter -- it was the second preseason game. But the feeling Head Coach Mike McCoy had at the post-game podium was real -- and from that moment on, he promised his team's play in the third phase of the game would improve.
Those improvements all helped the Bolts notch their eighth victory of the regular season on Sunday against the Raiders. McCoy's kicker, Nick Novak, is now 11-for-11 on attempts from 40 yards or more and made four field goals on the day. Hard-nosed tacklers like Seyi Ajirotutu, Darrell Stuckey, and Ladarius Green spearheaded his coverage teams by combining to cause an important turnover. Yes, there was a mistake on a muffed punt by Keenan Allen, but he’s been reliable all season long. He also had a 28-yard punt return that was a season-high for the Chargers.
"We were always confident," Ajirotutu said after Sunday's win. "We just needed to be accountable for each other, make plays, do our jobs, and become a cohesive unit."
Ajirotutu credited that preseason game with turning the unit around. The results show he's right; this season, Special Teams Coordinator Kevin Spencer’s unit leads the league in average starting field position against. Punts were getting blocked in that preseason matchup -- they're getting pinned inside the 10-yard line now.
Then, of course, there's the scoring. As clutch kickers go, Novak is one of the best. Just ask Eric Weddle, who said he has only one thought in his head whenever his kicker lines up for a field goal.
"We think its money in the bank," a grinning Weddle said. "Guaranteed points."
There's a reason why Novak now owns the second-best scoring season by a kicker in Chargers history – and is only two field goals away from John Carney’s record of 34. Long or short, he puts kicks through the uprights. McCoy is never slow to point out how confident he is in his third-year guy.
“I want the ball – I love to be in a situation to help my team,” Novak added. “You always have to prove yourself – as long as you’re in this league, you’re always competing. I love that part of it.”
Philip Rivers also pointed out what a major contributor Novak has been for this team.
“Nick’s an offensive weapon,” he said. “When Nick’s on the field, he scores points. Much like a receiver or running back, seriously, when he’s been on the field, like you said it’s consistently almost every time, when he’s jived out there, we’ve scored points…When you have a kicker that’s valuable like Nick is, it’s a huge weapon for you. Yes, you want to score touchdowns and yes, you want to be aggressive, but there’s a time when it’s touchdown (or) check-down, and let’s make sure we get to three. Let’s give him chance to get to come out here and get to three. He was again clutch today.”
When Novak makes a field goal, Stuckey said it makes him want to make a play. And sometimes, as it did against Oakland, that play leads to points, too.
Novak kicked a field goal to put the Bolts up ten and then kicked off. That's when Stuckey teamed up with Ajirotutu on the kickoff coverage, slammed into returner Greg Jenkins and jarred the ball loose. Ladarius Green, who was in a full sprint from kick to fumble, fell on the free ball.
"Me, Stuck, whoever," said Ajirotutu. "We're just trying to make sure we all play hard and all are accountable for each other."