METAIRIE, La. — Garrett Hartley could have jogged onto the field with five seconds remaining in the Saints’ game at Tampa Bay on Sunday and thought about how his job was on the line.
And maybe a younger, less experienced Hartley might have done that.
But not now, not in his sixth season in the NFL.
“Obviously I don’t think about that when we’re going out for it,” Hartley said this week. “The whole fourth quarter, I’m just hanging out on the bench and hey, this might happen. Be ready.”
That’s a lesson he learned from former kicker John Carney prior to the 2009 NFC championship game when the veteran was around as a kicking consultant.
Now Hartley is the grizzled veteran, a player who through two weeks of the 2013 season is the NFL’s third-leading scorer with 21 points. He’s one of two kickers to have made six field goals so far.
Hartley, for the first time in what feels like a long time, is in a groove. Fellow special teams expert Thomas Morstead, for one, isn’t surprised.
“This is the most consistent I’ve seen him just in life in general,” said Morstead, the team’s punter. “He’s, I don’t know, been very on a routine this year more than he has been in the past. … I’m not surprised that he has done well this year, as well as he has done so far.”
Hartley has hit on 84.6 percent of his kicks in his career, including going 13 of 13 to start his life in New Orleans.
Even in missing one field goal this past Sunday, he turned around and finished the game off with a 27-yard game-winning boot. That’s as much about Hartley’s routine and the special teams practice as anything else, special teams coordinator Greg McMahon said.
“We’re continually staying with the routine,” McMahon said. “That’s a skill that’s developed. It’s habits. This is what we’re doing on Wednesday. This is what we’re doing on Thursday’s. This is what we’re doing on Friday.”
“At this point I don’t really think too much about it,” Hartley said. “I come in and I know hey, this is what time I’m going to get here in the morning. This is what time I’m going to go in the cafeteria and eat my Special K or oatmeal or what cereal they have. Go out and lift my legs or if I kick. It’s just everything coming together.”
So when he did miss that kick, he had a veteran’s presence of mind to figure out the correction right away.
“After the miss, I was playing the wind and the ball just didn’t break for me,” Hartley said. “That part was kind of frustrating. But the fact I knew I hit the ball how I wanted to, we go out there again 41-yarder, same side of the field and just don’t allow for the wind.”
Just more things he has learned from veterans who have rotated through the roster over the years.
“Between the John Carney’s and John Kasay’s and just seeing their work ethic on and off the field and how they prepare and really just implementing that into my daily regimen,” Hartley said. “It’s been paying off.”