SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Jeff Heath had no idea where the ball would go.
He kicked it anyway.
The Cowboys' starting safety became the Cowboys' emergency kicker in the second quarter of Sunday's 40-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers when Dan Bailey injured his groin warming up on the sideline.
"I didn't really have any time to think about it," Heath said. "Which is probably a good thing.
"We kind of prepared for something like that last year one game. I never really thought that I was really going to have to do it in a game. It was a lot of fun, man."
Heath, 26, hadn't kicked in a game since his senior year of high school in Lake Orion (Mich.), when he converted a game-winning field goal in the playoffs. He got a little practice in training camp and last October when Bailey, ironically, hurt his back during the Cowboys' road trip to San Francisco.
But Bailey has never missed a game since entering the NFL in 2011. The groin injury kept him out for the remainder of Sunday's game – and forced the Cowboys to try a two-point conversion after taking a 20-3 lead on Jason Witten's one-handed catch with 10:33 left in the second quarter.
Heath handled the ensuing kickoff, the hardest part of his replacement duties.
"I didn't really know where the ball was going to go," he said.
Indeed, Heath's knuckleball-style kicks sailed left and right. But the final two kickoffs (five total) went for touchbacks. He credited his coverage team for running down to make tackles despite his questions about direction.
Heath also made 2-of-3 extra points, including his first attempt bouncing off the upright and in.
One missed badly right when he rushed it, anxious about it getting blocked.
"The coaches did a really good job getting my mind right," he said. "(Holder/punter) Chris (Jones) and (long snapper) L.P. (Ladouceur), they could probably tell I was a little nervous. They did a really good job calming me down."
Heath's teammates were impressed with his kicking cameo.
"I saw Morten Andersen go in the Hall of Fame in Canton, but I don't know that he has anything on Jeff Heath," tight end Jason Witten said with a smile. "He made it look easy. The kickoff to open the second half, it's really hard to put the ball on the 2-yard line on a kickoff in the National Football League. That guy's a really special athlete."
Indeed, Heath made history:
- He was the first non-kicker/punter to handle kickoff duties for the Cowboys since 2008, when safety Pat Watkins had one kickoff for 61 yards.
- The last time the Cowboys had a non-kicker/punter attempt a field goal or extra point was in 1961, when tight end Dick Bielski went 10-of-10 on extra points and 6-of-9 on field goal attempts.
- Heath also became the first non-kicker/punter to make multiple extra points in a game since Houston linebacker Ted Thompson went 4-of-4 in 1980.
The Cowboys held a commanding lead throughout the game, avoiding a situation where Heath had to attempt a field goal.
Bailey's injury is likely to be re-evaluated when the Cowboys return to Dallas. The team plays again next Sunday at Washington.
"I think we'd all like it if Dan could do that job from here on out," Heath said. "But I'll just be ready if that were to happen again."