ATLANTA – Brett Maher probably doesn't anticipate taking a ton of hits during the course of a football game.
But in this situation, after delivering a last-second win in a must-have game, the Cowboys' kicker said he was sure to watch out for his own guys.
"I try to make sure I keep my chin strap buckled up to make sure I don't get hurt," Maher joked after the Cowboys' wild 22-19 win on Sunday.
If you saw the aftermath of the kick, you understand. Maher's 42-yard field goal split the uprights as time expired, lifting the Cowboys over the Falcons – and his teammates lifted him into the air, before surrounding him in a massive dogpile.
"That's a great feeling – especially knowing what those guys go through, throughout the week, and what they did during the game to be able to put me in a position," Maher said. "It's really satisfying for me to be able to do it for them."
He might not admit this publicly, but it's got to be especially satisfying for Maher, given his struggles in recent weeks. The first-year kicker had suffered a miss in three-straight games going back to Washington, when he hit the post as time expired.
The troubles even continued into Sunday, as Maher missed an extra point following the Cowboys' go-ahead touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter. Asked about it after the game, he said his foot got caught in the turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
"I felt like it was one of those things – I kind of got grabbed by the turf monster," he said. "It doesn't happen very often."
Regardless, it'd be understandable if Maher was feeling some pressure. The margin for error in the NFL is razor thin – especially for kickers – and a miscues would have meant a missed field goal in four-straight games.
If he felt pressure, though, he didn't show it. After getting his mentality right on the sideline, Maher said he approached the situation like any other kick.
"I always want that. So I don't think I wanted it any more or less, but I feel like again I was ready for it," he said.
A quick perusal of any social platform would tell you that Cowboys fans weren't so calm. This was the third end-of-game opportunity already this season, after a game-winner against Detroit and the miss in Washington. To see Maher line up again with the game on the line was not an enticing situation for everyone, although it doesn't sound like it bothered Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys' head coach said he visited with Maher after the missed extra point, and his vote of confidence carried weight in crunch time.
"I just said something to him real quick," Garrett said. "'Put it behind you, don't worry about it, to hell with it, you're going to get another opportunity,' and sure enough he did and he drilled it."
It was a fitting end to the game – and a fitting microcosm for this Cowboys team. For all the setbacks he's faced, Maher has come through when it mattered more often than not. Due to that, he's a big part of why the Cowboys are right back in the thick of the playoff race.